In 30 years of coaching high school and college basketball in Minnesota, Jim Dimick, Jr. experienced some highs – like taking Richfield’s boys team to the Class 3A State Tournament final in 2005, where the Spartans lost to Shakopee – as well as a few lows, most notably his firing from that same program just a few years later.
His dismissal from Richfield drew some media coverage after parents and at least one player complained that open enrollment had given opportunities to players from other districts at the expense of players who lived in Richfield. While his teams did have some players who had open-enrolled, Dimick believes the roots of his firing had more to do with his efforts to bring talented Black players from Richfield into his program.
That firing, along with the disputed circumstances that led to it, is a recurring theme in Dimick’s memoir, “Hometown Kid, City Kid: A true story of a winning basketball team amidst demographic change,” which was published Aug. 16 by Mill City Press. It’s sure to stir the pot. Beyond that controversy, however, the book also offers up some fun Minnesota history for sports junkies, as well as a telling behind-the-scenes look at the pressure prep coaches often face from parents and school administrators.
Dimick, a former math teacher who now works as a CPA, discussed his book with me recently at an Excelsior coffee shop. The following conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity:
MinnPost: Why did you write this book?
Jim Dimick, Jr.: When I was coaching at Richfield and when I shared what was going on with my inner circle of friends, my canoe buddies and my family, my two brothers, I kept hearing from them, “You need to write the book. This is about more than just basketball.” After I got fired in 2010, I took the next summer and I would go to the coffee shop in the morning, and I just started writing. I tried to put in an hour a day. And I didn’t know where it was going to go, but I could tell early on it was good therapy for me.
MP: In what way?
JD: You start to write about it, and you put it all in order. There was something therapeutic about it, like getting it off my chest.
MP: Three things jumped out about the book to me: It’s a commentary on prep sports; it’s a bit about race relations and how our demographics have changed; and it’s also got a lot of prep sports history. When you were putting all of that together in your head, who was your audience?
JD: I was asked that twice early on, and I thought to myself, “OK, do I change the story to widen the audience?” And the more I thought about it my answer was, “No, I’m just going to document what happened. I’m going to write it so that somebody from out of state will understand it. A lot of Minnesota basketball junkies are going to want to read it, for sure.
MP: You brought in a lot of prep history to do what – provide some context? Here’s where we were and here’s where we are now? Was that the idea?
JD: When I finished writing my story, I realized I had to incorporate the history of the (Richfield) high school sports program to give it perspective or to give it a platform. And when I started doing that, I realized that there was just this incredibly rich sports history, (like) the heartbreaking story of the 1960 (boys’ basketball) team. [The Spartans lost in the state semifinals to the storied team from tiny Edgerton that went on to win the championship].
MP: And you found the changes (in Richfield) to be interesting and representative of change elsewhere?
JD: Yeah. Here’s a classic example of a northern, inner-ring, working-class suburb and how it’s gone through these changes – from being all brand-new houses full of little kids and World War II vets to an aging community. And then you’ve got the apartment buildings and they start filling up with minorities and some of the houses go from being (inhabited by) white people to minorities. That fascinated me.
MP: A big chunk of the book is about what led to you being fired at Richfield. Are you trying to set the record straight?
JD: That’s part of it, sure. There are three areas. There’s the untold story – things that happened behind the scenes that nobody knows about. The second thing was in 2005 when the controversy hit the Star Tribune. I felt there was some misinformation in (the paper’s coverage) and it wasn’t complete. The articles focused entirely on one thing: open enrollment. And I thought the underlying issues were demographic change and entitlement. And then, if you look beneath that, it raises questions about systemic racism, which I was calling “institutional racism” at the time. Since the George Floyd incident, everyone uses the term “systemic.”
MP: Speaking of that, did George Floyd’s death and what we are experiencing now in the country fuel your interest in getting this story out there?
JD: Yes. The timing is right to get this out now.
MP: You coached high school sports before open enrollment and then during the open-enrollment era. What do you think of it today?
JD: I’m for it. There are good things about it and there are bad things about it and there’s no perfect situation. But, overall, I think it’s good that we have it. You’ve got to divide it into two situations. One is outstate and the other is in the metro area. Probably all of the kids we got at Richfied that open-enrolled from south Minneapolis – they were, number one, looking for a better academic situation. And a better basketball situation, probably equally. But then if you look at outstate, you’ve got some of these kids transferring just for sports.
MP: Do you think (open enrollment) takes away from the sense of community that I’m sure you saw when you were coaching at Le Sueur (in the 70s and early ‘80s) and growing up in Northfield?
JD: Definitely. Without a doubt, it takes away from the unifying sense of community. When I researched Richfield, I think back to the ‘60s and ‘70s when they had it going there and it was a 100-percent Richfield team and it was backed by the community. And now that isn’t the case in those suburbs.