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Less than a month after Dallastown girls' basketball coach Mary Manlove was fired for her "coaching style," she was defended at Thursday night's school board meeting by parents of former athletes who played for the longtime head coach.

Less than five minutes into the school board meeting, two parents, Marie Smith and Zhana Johnson, stepped up to address the board in front of roughly 30 teachers, parents and community members in attendance.

Johnson read a letter from her daughter and former Wildcats basketball player Amari Johnson, a current college player who just completed her freshman season at the University of Rhode Island.

In the letter, Johnson spoke highly of her former coach and recounted times when Manlove would meet her at the high school at 5:30 a.m. to work one-on-one on the court with her. It was Manlove's dedication and passion for instilling confidence in her players, Johnson added, that made her a great coach.

"Kids these days need someone who will not only be their coach but someone who will care for them like coach Manlove cares for her players," the letter states. "A coach that will take time out of their personal schedule to build a relationship that will last a lifetime is very hard to come by. A person like Mary Manlove is very hard to come by."

Dallastown informed Manlove on March 21 that she would not be allowed to return for an eighth season because of her "coaching style," just one year after her team won the YAIAA Division I title and two years after her team won the YAIAA tournament.

The firing took place weeks after a group of parents met with the administration. According to Manlove, Harvey informed her that parents and players accused her of verbal, mental and physical abuse against players. It's an allegation Manlove strongly denied at the time of her firing.

Thursday afternoon, Dallastown athletic director Tory Harvey said he was unaware that parents were planning to attend Thursday's meeting. When asked if he could comment on Manlove's  dismissal, Harvey said, "I'm not able to talk about it."

Smith, who had two daughters — Carley and Samantha — play for Manlove during her eight-year tenure, also read letters from them defending Manlove's integrity.

In her letter, Carley Smith admitted to being overwhelmed by Manlove in her first year, but she credited the coach with building her confidence. 

"If I would of never had Mary as a coach, I can honestly say I probably wouldn't be where I am today," her letter states. "She taught me the very importance of perseverance and laid the foundation of the strong work ethic I have today. She instilled in me a confidence to speak up. ... The same expectations Mary has for her players are simply the same expectations Dallastown Area High School has of their students. I am a proud product of both."

After reading her daughters' letters, Smith reminded the board that all abuse allegations that resulted in an investigation by the school, police and child services had been dropped. She asked the board why positive accounts of Manlove weren't taken into account with the same weight as the negative allegations. 

"There are only eight students who caused this but there are as many or more who can counter every one of those negative comments against her," Smith said. "There was a petition that was signed with over 100 positive signatures. The allegations were all cleared. My question is how come only the negative was seen in this when there was a positive to counter every negative?"

The board thanked both parents for stepping forward to speak, then the meeting moved onto non-basketball topics.

Before Thursday's school board meeting, Johnson spoke to GameTimePA about her initial reaction to Manlove's dismissal.

"Shocked but not surprised," Zhana Johnson said. "I say that because, in my opinion, I think some of it may be personal (from the parents). So while I was shocked, I wasn't quite surprised."

Zhana Johnson added, "As a coach, Mary is a woman of integrity. I can't speak to the situation, because I wasn't there. But I consider her to be a woman of integrity. I know what she did for my daughter. Mary is a woman that would meet me at the gym, with Amari, at 5:30 in the morning, before school, to open up the gym for her so that she could practice."

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