Lehigh Senior High boys basketball coach Dawn McNew, who endured a chaotic final two weeks of the season including player and coaching suspensions stemming from an explicit rap video produced by nine team members, resigned from her position on Wednesday.
McNew submitted a resignation letter to the school Thursday, stating her thanks to a program she helped grow into one of the best in Southwest Florida.
“The decision does not come easy,” she wrote. “Players, parents and coaches of this program are family and I have truly been blessed to be a member. I have had the good fortune to have witnessed these boys grow and mature into young men both on and off the court, succeeding not only within the game of basketball, but also the classroom and in life.”
McNew, the only woman coaching boys basketball in Southwest Florida, told The News-Press late Thursday she was grateful for the opportunity to coach the Lightning.
“This hire was not a common one, but this basketball family welcomed me and my staff and simply poured their hearts and souls into building this program into what it is today and what it will continue to be,” she said.
“This decision, while difficult, was one I felt I needed to make at this time. I do thank the administration for providing me the opportunity, for seeing me as any other coach; one with a love for kids and for the game, one who was qualified, and one who was here to simply do all she could to serve as a positive impact in the lives of these young men.”
Her resignation followed a tumultuous period for the program, which endured a five-day suspension to nine players during the district tournament after the rap video full of vulgar and sexually explicit lyrics was found to be produced on school grounds.
McNew and her two paid assistants, Ryan Lewis and Ed Hearyman, were suspended along with the basketball players over the course of two games in the District 6A-11 playoffs. McNew and her coaching staff were also put on an indefinite personnel standards inquiry.
Eventually, parents of players hired lawyers to meet with Lee County School District superintendent Gregory Adkins to discuss a compromise of the punishment, which followed with McNew hiring another lawyer to argue for her own reinstatement.
She was back on the court before the start of the Region 6A-3 quarterfinals, where she coached her team’s last game of the season, a 68-66 loss at the buzzer to Golden Gate.
The 2015 Florida Association of Basketball Coaches Class 6A coach of the year compiled a 92-40 record with the Lightning over five seasons, leading the team to two 20-win seasons and back-to-back appearances in the Region 6A-3 finals from 2014-15. Over the past four seasons, her teams lost no more than eight games.
A year prior, McNew led the Lightning to one of its best seasons in school history, going 27-2 before losing in the Region 6A-3 finals to Tampa Jefferson.
Her sudden exit also left Bernard Edwards, a Lehigh Senior High parent who had lobbied for McNew to be reinstated following the suspension to the players and coaches, at a loss for words.
“I really don’t know how I feel,” he said. “I’m not mad. I’m not upset. I’m not disappointed. I really don’t know. It’s kind of one of those things, I’m kind of burnt out from fighting for the kids, fighting for the coaches. I’m sure she has a legitimate reason for stepping down. I just need to exhale and figure out what’s going on in the context of my son and his academic and athletic future.”
Edwards added that his sons BJ, a graduate of Lehigh that currently plays college basketball with Nova Southeastern, and Bershard, a sophomore with the Lightning, developed immensely under McNew.
“They have a strong belief in their faith and their family and their future,” Edwards said. “They blossomed very well under her tutelage. They were happy how far they grew under her leadership.”
The school’s athletic director, Dan Pallante, filed his own resignation letter on Feb. 18 to take a job at the University of Maryland as the assistant director of football operations.
Pallante, a teacher and coach for 28 years before he took the job at Lehigh, said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity in Maryland.
“I got a great opportunity,” said Pallante, whose last day at Lehigh was Friday. “I couldn’t pass it up. It’s always been my eventual goal to try to work at the college level and DJ Durkin (the University of Maryland head football coach) had a football job there. I have a very strong relationship with him.”