Dougherty departs Davidson as 'icon'
Most likely envision Jim Dougherty bringing out the lineup card for the Hilliard Davidson High School baseball team or dragging the infield to perfection before a game.
But that almost didn’t happen for the longtime Wildcats coach, who retired last month after 16 years at Hilliard and 16 more at Davidson after the school district split.
Dougherty, a 1973 Hilliard graduate, expected to coach football, but was turned away while in graduate school at Miami University and headed to the baseball field.
“I went to the football coach at Miami, Dick Crum, to see if I could be a volunteer on his staff,” Dougherty said. “He wasn’t interested, so I went to see the baseball coach, Bud Middaugh.
“Coach Middaugh had a great program and had several future professional players, including two former Cincinnati Reds in (second baseman) Bill Doran and (pitcher) Charlie Leibrandt. I drove down from Hilliard every day to coach a summer league team. That was my start.”
In his 32 seasons, Dougherty’s teams won eight OCC titles and reached a district semifinal 17 times. They won seven district championships and were regional runners-up three times.
“(In 1978) I was offered a teaching position as well as the head baseball position and as an assistant football coach at Logan, but there was an opening in Hilliard, so I took that,” said Dougherty, whose team went 14-15 in his final season, losing to top-seeded Pickerington North 16-14 in a Division I district semifinal. “That turned out to be fortunate because the Logan teachers went on strike for about 50 days to start the year. That would have been tough with just starting out and I probably would have had to find another job. Who knows what might have happened?”
Instead, Dougherty took a job teaching health and physical education at Hilliard Weaver Middle School, also coaching football and baseball.
He later became athletics director at Weaver and was the eighth-grade football coach at the school for 30 years.
Dougherty, who retired from all positions with the district after this past school year, put that football knowledge to work when he co-wrote a book, “Survival Guide for Coaching Youth Football,” in 2010.
“Coach Dougherty is one of my favorite coaches that I have ever had,” said Phil Huff, a 2010 graduate who is a senior offensive lineman for the Kent State football team and won a district title with the Wildcats baseball team in 2009. “He is a classic-style coach who knows how to motivate you. He will give you the look like you need to step up, and he’s not afraid to tell his players what they need to hear. That being said, he really loves his players and wants the best for them.”
As a baseball coach, Dougherty totaled 475 victories, was named OCC Coach of the Year seven times and Central District Coach of the Year twice.
He was coach of the All-Ohio Series in 1998 and for the United States Olympic Festival in 1993 in San Antonio, where his team won a gold medal.
“(Dougherty) is an icon for central Ohio baseball,” said Thomas Worthington coach Stephen Gussler, whose teams were perennial OCC rivals for Dougherty’s Wildcats. “He always had tremendous teams and was one of the keepers of the rules and is a great ambassador of the game.
“He always was a big help to young coaches, including myself when I started out. You can’t just throw a bag of baseballs out on the field and let the kids go. I’ll always be grateful for his wisdom, his insight and how he always helped me and my coaches.”
Dougherty served as president of the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association in 1995 and was inducted into the Central District Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2005 and the state baseball coaches shrine in 2009.
“Jim and I have become really good friends through baseball,” said Dublin Coffman coach Tim Saunders, another longtime OCC rival. “I always liked the way his teams carried themselves and the way they played. He was a good leader and a good example for young coaches. He knows the rulebook, and he knows the game. I feel lucky that I got to meet and work with him.
“He also always has been involved in the local and state baseball coaches associations and has been part of programs to make them better. He has done a lot for a lot of people.”
Steve Little, who retired as coach of Olentangy in 2012, has ties to Dougherty from when his Jackson teams played in Hilliard every spring.
“When I think of Jim Dougherty, I think of Hilliard baseball,” Little said. “Jim has done so much for the sport in the area and is an icon of central Ohio baseball.”
Dougherty also was named middle school Athletic Director of the Year in 2005 by the Ohio Interscholastic Athletic Administrators.
“Jim is a great person, a great coach and a great professional educator,” Davidson athletics director Mark Princehorn said. “I coached against him for a number of years when I was an assistant at Westerville North.
“Jim has a great sense of humor and a wonderful perspective on what we should do for kids as professional educators. His first and foremost priority is to give kids what they need to be successful.”
His influence extends to the Darby baseball program. Coach Chris Fugitt graduated from Hilliard in 1986, playing for Dougherty before playing at Bowling Green.
“(Dougherty) was a big influence in my life, playing for him in high school and coaching with him after college,” Fugitt said. “I learned a lot about coaching, handling kids, and just baseball in general. From being in the dugout with him, you realize just how much he cares for the kids. Hilliard baseball is going to miss him.”
Davidson promoted assistant Justin Swallie, a 2000 Darby graduate, to succeed Dougherty.
Swallie said replacing his mentor won’t be easy.
“(Dougherty) takes care of his coaches and he is always there first for his student-athletes,” Swallie said. “He always looked at it like, ‘What can we do for the kids to make this better?’ He always looked out for everyone else other than himself.
“I coached football with him for eight years at Weaver and I learned a lot of little things. I learned about being a coach, I learned about life. ... I learned about being a father from Jim Dougherty.”
Dougherty and his wife, Carolyn, have two sons: Josh, 26, and Jacob, 23.