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Penley steps down as University High boys basketball coach

Jeff Birchfield • Oct 3, 2019 at 12:33 AM

JOHNSON CITY — Justin Penley has stepped down as University High basketball coach, part of a ripple effect for the school’s programs.

Herman Rice, the UH girls coach for the past two seasons, will take over as boys coach. Former David Crockett coach Marty Story was tabbed to coach the girls at the end of last season.

Stating a desire to spend more time with family, particularly with his 8-year-old son — an aspiring basketball player — Penley mulled over the decision the past couple of months.

He felt the timing was right with the Bucs coming off a season in which they went 29-6 and swept Watauga Valley Conference, District 1-A and Region 1-A championships. They advanced to the TSSAA state tournament for the first time since 2008.

Penley, named the Times News/Johnson City Press All-Northeast Tennessee coach of the year in March, said he never wanted his legacy to be a coach who left when the cupboard was bare. It’s far from it: The Bucs return three starters, including Kaleb Meredith, who averaged nearly 19 points per game, from last year’s state tournament team.

“The program is healthy. This all will make the transition go much more smoothly,” Penley said. “For everything there is a season; I feel the timing is right for me to step away from the day-to-day basketball coaching duties. The two most important things in my life are faith and family.

“A large part of this decision is my strong desire to spend more time with my family, particularly as my son grows as a young man and as a basketball player himself. I do not want to look back years from now with regrets on time passed by.”

Penley remains a part of the University High faculty and continues to serve as golf coach. He added he’s not announcing a retirement, just taking a step back from the time-consuming role of basketball coach.

During his 12 seasons as UH coach, Penley accumulated more than 200 wins and his teams made nine region appearances. The Bucs advanced to three region finals, winning two championships. They also made two TSSAA Class A state tournament appearances. More than the success on the court, Penley hopes he’s made a bigger impact off it.

“I am proud of what we as a program have been able to accomplish, but even more important than wins and losses and championships won is the potential a coach has to have positive impact on the lives of young people,” he said. “My goal every season is for my players to grow and mature as players as well as men.

“It is my sincere hope when players graduate from University High, they have improved their basketball skills — but also their time-management skills, work ethic, leadership and character. I want them to look back over their career and to have enjoyed their time in my program while making lasting, positive life-long memories.”

Penley has given them an example of work ethic, earning a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership from ETSU in 2018 while coaching and teaching full time. He has also served in a larger administrative role when needed.

He had high praise for Rice, noting a vast improvement in the girls’ program from his first season to the second year. Assistant coach Jeff Meredith remains with the boys’ program, making it an easy transition.

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