On Monday morning, Pembroke Hill athletics director Don Earnest’s phone rang shortly after he sat down at his desk. On the other end of the call, a Lee’s Summit North girls tennis coach requested to start Monday’s match against Pembroke Hill with a short speech.
More specifically, the opposing coach wanted to illuminate the impact longtime Pembroke Hill coach Dale Eshelbrenner had on the high school tennis community in Kansas City.
“In the past couple of days, it’s been obvious just how much of an effect that Dale had on so many people,” Earnest said. “It’s going to be a big, big loss for us.”
Eshelbrenner died Saturday after a battle with cancer. He was 56.
He enjoyed an extraordinary coaching career with Pembroke Hill, leading the tennis programs to a combined 20 state championships — 13 with the boys and seven with the girls. He also served as the assistant girls basketball coach and was on the sideline for two state championships there.
“You can’t argue with his success, but more importantly, he had an ability to reach kids and would stress the importance of driving themselves to be as successful as they wanted to be,” Earnest said. “When it came to athletics, he was very competitive, so he was really to the point (with his messages) and was a no-nonsense guy. But the players knew where his heart was. He really cared about them, and they knew that.”
In addition to his coaching roles, Eshelbrenner created a school leadership program at Pembroke Hill, in which team captains for all sport programs would meet every season and outline leadership responsibilities. In the spring, he was inducted into the Pembroke Hill faculty and staff hall of fame after completing his 25th year at the school. He was a physical education teacher. His wife, Sara, also works at Pembroke Hill. They have two children.
“Dale was admired by his colleagues for his keen intellect, dry sense of humor and knowledge about an extraordinary range of topics,” said Steve Bellis, who serves as the head of school at Pembroke Hill. “As a coach, he was a man of deep knowledge, but few words. Hundreds of Pembroke Hill athletes benefited from his wisdom and his commitment to them.”