Harry Dobson, who oversaw the most successful era of St. Mary’s girls basketball, died unexpectedly Jan. 18 due to an aneurysm. The lifelong Annapolis resident was 81 years old.
Dobson compiled a 306-184 record, leading St. Mary’s to five Catholic League championships during a 21-year tenure as head coach. He previously served as junior varsity coach and varsity assistant under Carmine Blades for three seasons.
Blades, who was also the St. Mary’s athletic director, retired from coaching following the 1988-89 season and promptly promoted Dobson. The Saints captured their first Catholic League Tournament crown to cap Dobson’s first season.
St. Mary’s enjoyed a tremendous run from 1991-92 through 1993-94, posting a 72-11 record and capturing three straight Catholic League championships. Those teams produced numerous Division I athletes with point guard Bridgit Smith (UMBC) and forward Annetta Davis (Syracuse) playing college basketball. Meanwhile, forwards Nicole Foran (Maryland) and Jen Manning (Boston) played college lacrosse. Kristin Miller, another key member of those teams, enjoyed a terrific career at Division III Western Maryland.
“Harry Dobson was an outstanding basketball coach and a tremendous person. Over and above basketball, Harry was as good a man you’ll ever meet,” current St. Mary’s girls basketball coach Chuck Miller said.
Miller, who had two daughters (Kerry, Kristin) play for Dobson and served as his assistant for nine seasons, recalled that Dobson directed a summer basketball camp and donated all the proceeds to the St. Mary’s athletic department. He routinely bought all the Saints players matching shoes.
“Every penny Harry made coaching at St. Mary’s was given right back to his teams and the school,” Miller said. “Harry cared about every single player on his team, and he treated the star player the same as the last one on the bench.
“All the players absolutely loved Harry because he was so passionate and devoted.”
St. Mary’s held a moment of silence before Friday night’s girls’ home game. All the Saints wore T-shirts in honor of Dobson during pregame warmups.
St. Mary’s had another impressive run of success from 1995-96 through 1998-99, fashioning a record of 104-21 during that four-year stretch. Those teams were led by four future Division I basketball players in point guard Emily Lipton (Virginia Tech), wing guards Maria Smear (Yale) and Terri Daniels (Maryland) along with center Felicia Holloway (Iona).
That group captured the last Catholic League championship under Dobson and also the 1995-96 Independent Schools state championship with a 27-2 record. The Saints set a school record with 24 straight wins and finished the season ranked No. 1 by The Baltimore Sun.
Tobi McIntyre, who starred at McDaniel, was the fifth starter on those teams that were beaten in the Catholic League final by archrival Seton Keough in 1998 and ‘99.
“I can say without a doubt that Mr. Dobson cared about his players more than any coach I’ve ever had,” Daniels said. “He would let us have some fun but knew when to push and make sure we were fully focused.
“We all looked up to Mr. Dobson as a father figure, even though we sometimes put that poor man through the ringer.”
Dobson employed a fast-paced style for most of his St. Mary’s tenure, using a blistering full-court press to create turnovers and fast-break baskets. The Saints never let up, even when opponents were overmatched.
“Coach Dobson was incredibly competitive. We could be up by 50 points and he still wanted to press and run,” Daniels said.
Daniels served as an assistant under Dobson after graduating from Maryland. She later took over as head coach and led the Saints for seven seasons.
“I developed an even closer relationship with Mr. Dobson and got to know him better after high school,” she said. “He came to a lot of games when I was coaching at St. Mary’s, and I always appreciated his advice and support.”
Dobson was also known for his energetic coaching style and frenetic sideline demeanor. He was constantly jumping in the air, waving both arms, pumping a fist and going from one end of the bench to the other to celebrate with players.
“Mr. Dobson never sat down. He was always pacing and so animated, just all over the place,” Daniels said. “He was a big knee slapper, which was an ongoing joke among the players.”
Those halcyon days of St. Mary’s girls basketball began to fade after the Catholic League disbanded and was replaced by the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland. The Saints posted identical 6-20 records in Dobson’s last two seasons, and he resigned after the program lost 17 of its last 19 games and finished 2-14 in the IAAM B Conference.
“We’ve been horrible,” Dobson told The Capital in his typically blunt fashion. “Maybe someone else can change it and get the kids playing better.”
Dave Lanham, athletic director at St. Mary’s at the time, applauded Dobson for directing a high-level program from 1989 through 2008, sending dozens of players to college.
“Harry is going to be sorely missed at St. Mary’s. He has put his heart and soul into this program,” Lanham said. “As a result of his efforts and hard work, girls were given the opportunity to play at an extremely competitive level for an excellent coach.”
After word spread of Dobson’s death, a slew of former St. Mary’s players posted tributes to social media. Dobson was inducted into the St. Mary’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006 and was even more proud to speak at the enshrinements of his former players, such as Daniels.
“It’s definitely hard and I’ve had a few good cries the last few days,” Daniels said. “Everyone has been talking and sharing their memories of Coach Dobson. All our hearts are broken.”
Dobson, Miller and Mike Smith operated a powerful Amateur Athletic Union program known as the Chesapeake Hurricanes for many years. Dobson always coached the high school-aged team that competed in tournaments nationwide.
Dobson loved girls basketball so much he came out of retirement to coach the junior varsity programs at Severna Park High and Archbishop Spalding. He was able to coach a granddaughter while with the Falcons.
Dobson grew up on Mill Creek in the St. Margaret’s area and was a three-sport standout at Annapolis High. He was a left tackle in football, forward in basketball and midfielder in lacrosse, graduating in 1958.
“Harry was tough as nails and really scrappy in all the sports he played. He was aggressive and wanted to hit people,” said Ron Wolfe, a teammate at Annapolis High.
Dobson began a career in the flooring business immediately after high school and eventually became owner of Annapolis Floor Coverings until his retirement in 2005. He was a diehard Notre Dame football and New York Yankees baseball fan.
Dobson also served as the longtime commissioner of the Chesapeake Lacrosse Officials organization, which covered all of Anne Arundel County.
Dobson is survived by his wife of 60 years, Carolyn, along with daughters Linda Goodman (Bill) of Severna Park and Mary Sellers (Pete) of Annapolis. He is also survived by two grandchildren (Jacob and Caroline Goodman) along with two sisters-in-law (Jean Sheetenhelm and Roxanne Trueblood) along with many nieces and nephews.
A memorial service for Dobson will be held Saturday at Trinity United Methodist Church, 1300 West Street in Annapolis. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the St. Mary’s Athletic Association.