St. Stanislaus High School is a college preparatory school in Bay St. Louis on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Their mascots are the Rock-a-chaws, those little balls with thorns that sometimes get stuck to your socks and hurt like hell when you step on them with your bare feet.
As you walk into the school’s gym, the Brother Peter Memorial gymnasium, your eyes are drawn to the walls covered in large red and black banners commemorating the school’s many different athletic achievements. One wall’s banners are dedicated to St. Stanislaus’s basketball teams, many different district championships and playoff runs.
However, there is nothing from recent years as the once renowned program fell far from the high pedestal it once sat on. After a couple of rough rebuilding years, the team had become complacent with loosing and showed no signs of improving. It was clear a change needed to be made.
That change came in the form of one of the school’s old stars who wanted to bring the program back to its former glory. St. Stanislaus hired Arron Dunklin in 2017. He attended St. Stanislaus from 1998 to 2000 where he was a stand out on the basketball and football teams, and even attended Charleston Southern University on a football scholarship. Back then, St. Stanislaus basketball was synonymous with district championships as they won them every year.
He played under one of the greatest coaches in the school’s history, Jay Ladner. Coach Ladner has been a successful coach at the collegiate level for many years and was recently named as the new head coach of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. Dunklin said he draws a lot of inspiration from Ladner.
“Coach Ladner is one of the greatest teachers of the fundamentals of the game,” Dunklin said. “He taught me the right way to play.”
Dunklin has also taken lessons from one of his friends and former Rock-a-chaw, Kelton Thompson. Thompson showed him how important player connection was even if it came at a price of exposing yourself and becoming vulnerable. Dunklin said he has also been inspired by his father, Louis, who he credits for teaching him his temperament. His father never yelled and was always positive and mild mannered. This is most likely where Dunklin gets his coaching style.
“I attack coaching with an even keel approach,” Dunklin said. “The game has so many ebbs and flows to it that staying under control is paramount. My current players describe my style as patient and calm. I have a sense of humor, so I use sarcasm and life situations to influence basketball situations.”
Dunklin knew that he wanted to become a coach after he played his final game in 2007. He felt an obligation to share his knowledge and life lessons with others who were striving to reach the same achievements. It was not his original goal to come back and coach at his former high school, but he followed the program from afar. Dunklin was disappointed about how the program had lost its luster and felt an obligation to help fix it.
“How you do anything, is how you do everything,” Dunklin said about what he tries to teach his players. “In all you do, do it with all your power, might and spirit as unto the Lord the giver of all skills, talents and abilities.”
Coach Dunklin’s first year coaching the Rock-a-Chaws was rough as the team went 6-20 and finished last in the district. The players had yet to buy into what the coach was trying to do and still had a long way to go.
He has fast-tracked the revival of the program by working with younger students still in middle school at Stanislaus and teaching them the right ways to play early on. This strategy showed immediate results as the Rock-a-chaws improved their record 13-16 and finished third in the district just in Dunklin’s second year at the helm.
Year after year, Dunklin has steadily improved the program, restoring it to what it used to be. This past season and Dunklin’s third year as head coach, St. Stanislaus went 16-14 and was tied for first in the district. They have come a long way since 2017 when they only won a total of four games.
“Even though he was only my coach for one year, he was one of the best I ever had,” former player Drew Burnett said. “He taught me a lot about the game and life, and he’s a big reason why I’m playing at Millsaps today.”