May 20, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

New CdM Athletic Director Dennis Wilbanks hopeful for eventual return of sports

Dennis Wilbanks is the new athletic director at CdM. (Photo courtesy CdM Athletics)

Corona del Mar High School’s new athletic director Dennis Wilbanks said he is looking forward to guiding the program during some challenging times for high school athletics throughout the state.

Wilbanks, 50, takes over for highly-respected and successful long-time athletic director Don Grable, who retired. He leads a program that, like others in Orange County, is trying to deal with challenges resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, which shut down high school sports since March.

“I want a program where kids want to come out and play sports for CdM,” he said. “Does that mean we have to be the best? No, but I know from my coaches and their staff how they care and the effort they put in.”

Wilbanks said it’s important that no matter what sport athletes are competing in, that they enjoy their experience and build some lasting friendships along the way.

Six athletic camps are under way, including football, cross country and water polo under social distancing and other guidelines and three more will start next week, Wilbanks said.

Wilbanks was involved in coaching at Orange Unified School District from 2001 to 2006. He was also at Villa Park, where he worked with Jason Hitchens, who eventually left to become the head football coach at CdM. Hitchens was the defensive coordinator and Wilbanks the defensive line coach at Villa Park. When Hitchens became CdM’s new head coach, Wilbanks joined the Sea Kings staff in 2008 and later worked with CdM head coaches Scott Meyer and Dan O’Shea.

“I was there about 10 years, then in 2018 for the football season, I went to Mater Dei for two years,” Wilbanks said. “I was the offensive line coach.”

He then returned to CdM, where he has coached the offensive and defensive linemen and the running backs.

Last December, Wilbanks began to evaluate where he was in his career.

“I was turning 50, it was Christmas break and there was downtime, no football so I tend to start pondering,” Wilbanks said.

Wilbanks had helped Grable at games and handling a number of responsibilities, including fitness tests.

“We always talked about me picking up more of a role in the athletics,” Wilbanks said. “We weren’t sure what it was going to look like, then COVID happened, Kathy Scott (the principal) retired and he (Grable) was saying I think it’s time for me to go.”

So, Wilbanks stepped into the role as athletic director and began to formulate plans for the future.

“I would like to continue what we’ve been doing and solidify my coaches as a department and we continue working how we have and that as coaches feel or need to move on, I can replace them with the same quality coaches that we have been,” he said.

“The bottom line is, it’s about our students, so whatever I can do to better serve our students as well as be supportive of the coaches and help them do what they do best (are his plans).”

For now, the emphasis is on helping Sea King athletic teams forge a path and prepare for athletics, which is scheduled to return in December under the new CIF plan. Football is scheduled to start in January 2021.

“Now, I’m just trying to follow our district guidelines that are presented by the state and the county and get us opening for athletics the right way and keep our kids safe,” he said.

“There is all the COVID screening before they’re allowed on campus, the social distancing and the cohorts. Only 10 people are allowed in the cohort and each cohort has a different coach.”

Besides dealing with the limitations that the pandemic presents, there are other challenges at Corona del Mar.

“The hard part is we’ve got two fields being built that were supposed to be completed in June and they’re not done yet and we have a fence being built around the campus and the pool parking lot being redone, so it’s like COVID, no sports, construction and a lot of rebuilding and a new principal (Josh Hill) who I get to work hand in hand with and he’s very supportive as well the staff,” he said.

The limitations on fields has resulted in some adjustments. The football team is holding its camp at a nearby park, Wilbanks said.

But Wilbanks remains optimistic and believes there is a solid chance that sports will start in December.

“I have a good feeling, and selfishly, I hope they do, but I think they will, unless we get a spike like some people are talking about in December,” he said. “But I see sports occuring in other states and they’re doing it the right ways and they know that CdM will do it the right way, so I guess I’m optimistic but I think it will happen.

“Talking to my coaches and the kids I’ve seen, they’re just glad to have something going on, even if it’s along the line of just calistenics,” he said. “Hybrid learning is scheduled for Oct. 12 so I’m hoping the numbers keep going in the right direction and we can do some phase two around that time which will allow bigger outside groups and for our indoor sports to get going. Girls basketball is moving on now and they are at a park outdoors.”

-Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com