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  • Reverend James Squire

Coach Dan Dougherty

If we listen carefully, we can hear a bouncing ball in heaven as Coach Doc has arrived. I was with him last in mid-May. I was so glad to see him that I just began talking to him expecting him to begin his good-natured bantering in return. He didn’t respond except to know who I was. It broke my heart to see that he had lost a part of who he was. We know people “lose a step when they are older,” but I always thought that Dan would be the exception to that rule because of the vital nature of his life lived.

We will read and hear much about his life in basketball, the stories he would tell, and the players that he turned into outstanding coaches, but there are even more people who knew nothing about the sport who fell within his spell of acceptance and encouragement to be more than they thought that they could be. That was certainly true on the court, but the court is where the world saw first-hand his basic nature which had even more influence off the court.

Our school motto at EA is Esse Quam Videri, to be and not to seem to be. Of all the types of people who he came across, he could not stand a phony. On the other hand, he was just as good at spotting someone who was real. Those are the people with whom he chose to hang around. We had lunch together frequently. One day a lanky African American student who had just entered our school came to our table. There was the usual interplay between Dan and his new basketball player with much joking around. The player left the table. Dan looked at me and said, “Jim, he is the real deal.” That player was Wayne Ellington who went on to have a stellar career at UNC and the pros.

There were other players who thought that they were God’s gift to the game of basketball. Certainly, their parents shared that attitude. They were long on hubris and short on humility. They got the message from Dan that if you were not humble, he didn’t care how good a player you thought you were, you had to get some of that humility stuff or you wouldn’t get much of his time. Humility and gratitude are where everything started and ended for Dan.

Dan’s code in life included always trying to do the right thing where no corners were cut. He taught math and enabled struggling students to be encouraged to be better than they thought they could be and do in his classroom. Putting forth effort on or off the court caused Dan to work even harder for a student or athlete to achieve.

Dan was old school. In fact, he was old, old school. God threw away the mold once he created Dan. He saw life through the lens of black and white with little gray. Can you imagine a coach today requiring a student to leave practice if they said a curse word? If the word slipped out, they would just leave practice before Coach Doc would lift his finger to point the way to the locker room. He taught them ethics by what he did, not only by what he said.

There is one area where Dan would be a failure. That would be in the world of politics. He cared little for his achievements compared to the achievements of his students and players. Power was a foreign desire for him. He could care less about money, living most of his life in the same house for decades. Fame meant nothing to him for he celebrated the fame of others who were part of his orbit. His watchwords were “there is nothing that you can’t achieve if you don’t need to take credit.” To take a line from a current political campaign, “he was an ass kicker and not an ass kisser.”

Dan was fun which is step one to meet a student. He loved being a match maker and bringing two people together who secretly were interested in one another. His basketball record could be matched by the number of students that he “matched” up to go to the prom, but first would be the kidding and then the red face. He was the best cure for a bad day.

He was family and faith first. I remember on 9/11, I got word that two of Dan’s children were possibly involved in that attack. Dan, Jr. was usually heading to the twin towers at the time the planes crashed. His son, Brian, was thought to be on a plane flying over the city about the same time. Dan and his wife, Mary Ellen, were caught where many others were caught that day not knowing if their children were safe. Their fear and focus were palpable. Dan was delayed in this travel that day and Brian’s plane flew over New York at a different time. Their parents could finally breathe again.

This blog is about Dan, but we need just as much room to describe his wife, Mary Ellen. They were so similar in so many ways. I sat next to Mary Ellen during more basketball games that I could count. She offered ongoing commentary on what was going on in the game. That love and knowledge of the game is one of many places where they could connect at a deep level with so many shared values and a shared vision for their lives together.

There will be much said and written about Coach Dougherty in the coming days. You will hear about all of his players who went on to bigtime coaching careers. The focus may be on his public record. You will hear about his staggering win/loss record, but there is one important thing missing.

One of the privileges of my role at EA as Chaplain enabled me to see what Dan did behind the scenes in his private world helping players and students. He did far more in that domain than is celebrated in his public life working with kids. That’s why kids loved him. He never broke their trust and that he wanted the very best for them. In kid world the people who count are those who help you without anyone needing recognition for that. The public life on the court and his private support of players and students collectively made Coach Doc a great man! He inspired them!

God bless you, Coach!

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