Couldn’t be more delighted for dear athletic dad

April 17, 2011 

Next Saturday will be one of those red-letter days for the Dodge family. That’s when my father, John Richard Dodge, will be among the seven inaugural members inducted into Olympia High School’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

At 90, he’ll be the oldest living alumnus to enter the new athletic hall of fame, representing the class of 1939.

Upon learning of his selection a few weeks ago, my dad questioned why he was singled out, his self-deprecating humor on full display.

“Why did they pick me?” he asked no one in particular. “They probably couldn’t find anyone else from my era who is still alive.”

Maybe there’s a ring of truth to that. But longevity aside, co- athletic director John Amidon said the selection committee was impressed by his athletic career at OHS, where he was a catcher on the baseball team, lettering all three years, a single-wing blocking quarterback and punter on the football team and a two-year starter in basketball. The 1938 football team was the first to go undefeated in OHS history, capturing the Southwest Washington Championship.

His athletic career didn’t end in high school. He went on to become a two-year varsity catcher on the Washington State College baseball team and captain of the college swim team, performing as a diver and sprinter. He sandwiched his athletic pursuits between part-time jobs to pay for a college education that culminated in a doctorate in veterinary medicine in 1944.

Back in high school, chores on the family’s Lilly Road farm – there were 10 Jersey cows to milk and 1,000 white leghorn laying hens to tend to – always came before sports.

“I was late many times for games, sitting on the bench at first, but always in the lineup soon,” Dad recalled in memoirs he put to ink in 2004.

His memoirs are filled with interesting sports anecdotes about people, not individual accomplishments or memorable games. A couple come to mind:

My dad’s high school coach in all three sports was the legendary Chick Rockey, who coached and taught at Olympia High School from 1925-60. The high school gymnasium is named after him, and he is an odds-on favorite to be included in a future class inducted into the high school’s hall of fame.

When a scrawny sophomore turned out for baseball in 1937, Rockey said something to him that was a source of motivation: “Dodge, I’ve seen some real ballplayers come out of Lacey, but you are certainly not on the list.”

“Coach Chick Rockey’s comment changed my life,” my dad said. “I wasn’t receptive to being called a failure in athletics.”

As a young teenager, dad had a memorable encounter with Ira “Pete” Flagstead, a 13-year Major League Baseball player and friend of my grandfather’s. Living in Olympia, Flagstead was bedridden with cancer, far removed from his glory years on the diamond where he was a lifetime .290 hitter and most valuable player for the Boston Red Sox in 1925.

“In his bedroom, with my dad, he gave me his catcher’s mitt,” my dad recalled. “From then on, I was a catcher.”

Flagstead started his baseball career as a catcher, but when he reached the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers in 1917, he was converted to an outfielder.

Much to my dismay, my father’s athletic prowess didn’t pass directly to me. My baseball and football careers were over at age 14, and my basketball was limited to city league play as a teen and later as an adult. However, my love of sports was, and is, just as strong as my father’s.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of lazy summer afternoons holed up in the attic of our Shelton home, poring over my dad’s high school and college annuals that were stored in a locker. I pulled them out countless times to flip through the pages, marveling at the photos of this dark-haired, handsome guy in a leather football helmet with no face mask or a baggy wool baseball uniform, a bat or catcher’s mitt in his hand.

As a little boy, I remember watching this larger-than-life figure play city league basketball with his Shelton buddies and later joined him on the hardwood for basketball pickup games at the Olympia YMCA. I was the skinny, bespectacled 13-year-old with not a lot of game, and he was the 41-year-old ex-athlete who played city league basketball until he was 45. He’d poke a finger in my stomach to distract me when I shot. It must have been an old defensive trick he learned in high school.

I’m not sure why it took Olympia High School – the oldest high school in the area – so long to create an athletic hall of fame. But we’re not complaining. In fact, we can’t wait for Saturday night.

Also going in to the OHS Athletic Hall of Fame are Marvin “Bud” Ward (class of 1932), Carol (Berntsen) Hudson, (class of 1956), Dean Halvorson (class of 1964), Robin Marshall (class of 1979), Carolyn (Carlson) Accimus (class of 1983) and Coach Bob Dunn (1970s-80s).

The hall of fame dinner and auction is set for 5:30-8:30 p.m. April 23 at the OHS Chick Rockey Gymnasium. Tickets cost $25. For more information, call 360-596-7028 or go to www.growlohsathletics.com.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 jdodge@theolympian.com

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