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Cass Lake-Bena basketball coach Ninham resigns after 14 seasons

Cass Lake-Bena boys basketball coach Dan Ninham, far left, is interviewed during the Minnesota Boys Basketball Tournanment at Target Center in 2008. Ninham resigned as CL-B head boys basketball coach Thursday. Pioneer File Photo/Eric Stromgren

Dan Ninham resigned as the Cass Lake-Bena boys basketball head coach in an e-mail sent to school administrators Thursday.

"Please accept my resignation as Head Varsity Boys Basketball Coach for the Cass Lake-Bena Panthers effective immediately," Ninham wrote. "I have valued the time that I have spent as the coach of the boys basketball team and thank you and the district for the opportunity to coach the outstanding young men of the communities. I appreciate all the support the community gave the team during my tenure as coach and wish the team good luck in the future."

The e-mail was sent to ISD 115 Board Chairman Holly Evans, Cass Lake-Bena Principal Pernell Knutson, Activities Director Mike Hanson and Superintendent Carl Remmers.

"It's just so abrupt," Ninham said in a phone interview Thursday night. "It was hard to make this decision and it is hard when you're in a position of being fired, not renewed or resigning."

The decision ends Ninham's 14-year coaching career at Cass Lake-Bena, where he compiled a 255-83 record and guided the Panthers to five of the last six Class A state tournaments.

Remmers sent Ninham an e-mail Thursday, citing he did not "believe any of them (activities committee) will support renewing your contract to coach Basketball next year."

Remmers' e-mail noted activities committee concerns including: late arrival to practices, not riding the team bus to away games, fundraising and using Cass Lake-Bena school and students to produce a CD.

Ninham described the recent developments as a "political situation" brought on by accusations from Cass Lake-Bena assistant boys basketball coaches John Wind and Gordon Fineday at a recent activities committee meeting.

At that meeting, Wind described Ninham's unequal treatment of students' playing time to school board members Jolyn Donnell, Brian Brunelle and Evans.

"Kids were treated differently based on their talent," Wind is quoted saying in the Cass Lake Times. "We need to be honest with the kids. Let them know if they are a starter or not. Tell them what they need to work on."

Wind and Fineday also accused Ninham of running five-minute practices before dismissing the team, and running practices before school.

"They weren't practices," Wind is quoted saying in the Cass Lake Times. "You have a coach who is incapable of coaching; someone in charge who doesn't know what they are doing."

Fineday accused Ninham of exploiting students in instructional videos and not riding the team bus to away activities.

"It was day-to-day double standards," Fineday is quoted saying in the Cass Lake Times. "My problem is, (Ninham) takes winning over everything else. Some kids get away with anything. (Assistant coach) Carl (Jacobs) and Dan cover for each other. I feel they (the team) haven't been coached for the last year. I've had to deal with parents and the kids, and mediate between them."

Ninham responded to the accusations against him Thursday.

"My downfall was mentoring, trusting and befriending critics on our coaching staff," he said. "I'm only guilty of helping put Cass Lake-Bena on the national map for boys basketball."

Ninham admitted to not riding with the team on three road trips the past season due to a conflict with the away-game road schedule and his teaching schedule at Bemidji Middle School.

Ninham said his contract allows him to be at team activities at 4 p.m. to accommodate the Bemidji Middle School dismissal time.

Ninham said he raises funds for the boys basketball team through the sale of printed coaching manuals and instructional videos.

Ninham said the use of high school student-athletes in the videos is a practice approved by the Minnesota State High School League.

Ninham used his son, Byron Ninham, and Anthony Robinson in an instructional video four years ago where he received a $2 royalty per $40 video sale. Ninham used players from Cass Lake-Bena, Deer River and Red Lake for another instructional video that earned a $6 royalty per $40 video sale.

"This is my business," Ninham said. "It's not a booster club but a basketball programming business that helps support Panther basketball."

Ninham said the royalty funds went back into the program for team tournament entry fees, road trip dinners, coaches shirts and senior gold charm awards.

"I did not want to do this (resign)," Ninham said. "I wasn't provided an opportunity to speak to the activities committee or the school board on these issues and I made my decision to resign based on non-support."

The Panthers compiled a record of 163-27 over the last six years and reached the state tournament the last four years.

Cass Lake-Bena was state runner-up in 2005 and 2007. Ninham was named the Class A Coach of the Year in 2005.

"I'm just disappointed in the district, the administration and the school board for not supporting me," Ninham said. "I think my record speaks for itself."

Ninham's future plans include marketing basketball instruction manuals on the offensive and defensive systems he developed at Cass Lake-Bena.

He plans to tour with national coaching clinics in June and give instruction on his systems in South Dakota, Colorado, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia and Texas.

Ninham plans to publish the 2010 State Champion Basketball Playbook featuring coaches and programs throughout the country on June 1.