Dobson more than just a coach

Max Dobson throws out the first pitch before Oklahoma Christian's baseball game against Peru State (Neb.) in 2008. It was OCU's first baseball game after it brought back the baseball program, which it had dropped in 2001. (OCU Athletics)

Emotions flowed for Clee Jay Hedges as he watched the funeral of retired Oklahoma Christian University baseball and women's basketball coach Max Dobson on YouTube Monday. Dobson died Oct. 28 at the age of 81.

Hedges grew up with Dobson as he would star in both basketball and baseball at Pioneer High School and later at Phillips University. Dobson graduated from Pioneer in 1957 where he made All-State in basketball.

Dobson had a 280-194 record, including a third-place finish at the 1972 NAIA World Series, as OCU's baseball coach from 1967-80. He had a 173-80 record in eight seasons as the women's basketball coach where he won two Sooner Athletic Conference championships. He was the school's athletic director from 1983-94.

"It was quite a tribute,'' Hedges said.

His accomplishments as both a player and a coach were secondary to that of Dobson as man.

"Max saved a lot of kids' lives,'' Hedges said. "He taught them to be good human beings first. He put the kids first. He wanted to win, but he made sure that the kids were on the right track. If their heads weren't right, he wouldn't keep them.''

Dobson and his wife Ramona took care of his players "like a mother and father,'' Hedges said. "He was very knowledgeable. He knew the game, but he made sure that their lives were in order before he played for him.''

Hedges — who graduated a year ahead of Dobson at Pioneer — had known Dobson since he was 11. Dobson had moved to the Pioneer district to live with an aunt and uncle. His father had left the family a few years before. Dobson suffered from Parkinson's Disease the last 12 years of his life.

"You never heard him complain,'' Hedges said. "When things got tough, he made the best out of it. A lot of people would have crawled into a hole if they went through what he did. Not him. He always had his head up. You talk with anybody that played with him or against him would tell you the same thing.''

Hedges and Dobson grew close growing up going back and forth between each other houses. When Hedges pitched, Dobson would catch. When Dobson pitched, Hedges would play short. Dobson was Mr. Outside in basketball while Hedges was Mr. Inside.

Dobson averaged around 30 points per game as a senior and that was a generation before the three-point line.

"He was a deft shooter,'' Hedges said. "He was very dedicated and had a good head on his shoulders. He played with a lot of intensity and played to win. There was no fooling around when you got through playing with him.''

Hedges remembered when he knocked out one of Dobson's front teeth with an elbow accidentally on the day of a game. The tooth was at a 45-degree angle.

"I thought he would lose the tooth, but they took him to the dentist and he put it back in,'' Hedges said. "He looked like he had a shield all over his face, but he still scored 30 that night. He was dedicated.''

Another time Hedges and Dobson were involved in a traffic accident while traveling to pick up a catcher's mitt. Dobson's right shoulder was knocked down, but he picked up a rock to see if he could still throw the ball.

"He was just one of the best,'' Hedges said. "He treated everybody like he wanted to be treated.''

Dobson, the pitcher, didn't throw exceptionally hard, but had good control and could move the ball around.

"He was better than you thought he would be,'' Hedges said. "He was smart. Basketball was his main sport, but he was good at both. He had the talent, but if he didn't have it upstairs, he wouldn't have made it. He had the smarts.''

Hedges couldn't foresee Dobson being a coach when they were growing up.

"Not really,'' he said. "You knew he was sports-minded and fairly religious but when we were in school, he had no idea what he was going to be like I had no idea what I was going to be. We never talked about it. He coached three years in Kansas before he had a chance to coach at OCC (then Oklahoma Christian College). He worked his way up to the top.''

Dobson recruited future University of Oklahoma women's coach Sheri Coale before stepping down as the women's coach. Coale and her top assistant, Jan Ross, attended Dobson's funeral service. Ross, like Coale, also played for Dobson at OCU.

"He told me she (Coale) didn't like being on the bench,'' Hedges said. "He coaches a lot of good ballplayers.''

The two had kept in touch throughout the years. The visits were limited to phone calls after Dobson entered an Edmond nursing home.

It pained Hedges to see Dobson go through the affects of Parkinson's the last 12 years.

"He was so well-coordinated,'' Hedges said. "That's what made it so rough to see him at the end. He couldn't even shuffle through his living room. It's a shame that good of an athlete couldn't get around later in life ... but he never complained.''

In 1976, he began a class called "Teaching the Exceptional Child,'' after a parent of a special-needs child, who was searching for opportunities for the child to interact with college students asked Dobson if OCU had such a program. Dobson was quoted as estimating at least 3,000 OCU students had taken the class over the years and had assisted in his efforts to aid special-needs children.

Max Dobson knew how to live.

"I really think that pretty well says it,'' Hedges said. "I never met a coach with more character than he had. He was top notch.''

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Campbell is a former sports writer and current part-time writer for the News & Eagle,

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Graduate of Oklahoma City John Marshall (1972) and University of Oklahoma. Been at News & Eagle since June 19, 1978. Previously worked at Oklahoma Journal, Midland, Texas Reporter & Telegram, Norman Transcript, Elk City Daily News

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