Dodson steps down as XC coach
Loretta Dodson and her husband left the Lehigh Valley last week to take a trip out west. The two enjoy visiting the national parks, and will use this vacation to see Arches National Park in Utah and Mesa Verde in Colorado.
Dodson will have some extra time in the upcoming fall seasons to see more of that.
That was one of the reasons why Dodson, who was involved with the Parkland cross country program for 22 years, recently stepped down. She was the head coach for the past 17 seasons, leading hear teams to 11 district championships and over a combined 400 wins for the boys and girls teams.
“It was a tough decision,” Dodson said. “I knew that it was my husband’s last year. I knew before last season ended that he was done. We aren’t getting any younger, and there are things that he wanted to do. So, I resigned as the winter track coach in October just to see how the winter would go without coaching.
“That’s one thing that we’ve never really been able to do—visit some of the national parks. And for some of them, the best time to see them is during the fall.”
Dodson then decided to ultimately walk away from the sport as a coach. However, she’ll still be involved with high school running in a different role.
“I had talked with some of my colleagues from District 1, and they encouraged me to become an official,” Dodson said. “I became an official over the winter, so I’ll still be involved in the sport. But I’ll be able to accept or decline a job or whatever suits my schedule.”
Dodson officiated a number of track and field meets last spring. The 2019 fall season will be the first one where officials are needed at cross country meets, and she plans to help out in that way, too.
She is also involved with the Lehigh Valley Road Runners, so she is not leaving the sport completely.
“I have lots of things on my plate and things that I would like to do,” Dodson said. “And now is the time.”
One thing that Dodson and her staff—which included Steve Dodson (15 years), Rick Grab (12 years), Chip Carners (11 years) and Courtney David (4 years)—instilled in the program is the fairness they showed and accountability they expected throughout the roster.
“We didn’t allow kids to fall through the cracks,” Dodson said. “We expected the same accountability from everyone on the team, whether they were No. 1 or No. 100. I think that contributed to the success we’ve had. Each year it was a clean slate. There was no entitlement. You had to go out there and prove yourself all over again.”
That resulted in a program that has a rich tradition of success. In addition to the 11 district championships, Parkland captured 16 conference championships and 16 league meet titles during Dodson’s tenure. A total of 25 teams—both boys and girls combined—qualified for states. The Trojan boys qualified in 16 of the 17 years she was head coach.
But beyond the trophies, medals and successes on the course, Dodson has also seen plenty of accomplishments in her former athletes’ lives and careers outside of running.
One in particular is the Parkland girls’ team in 2004 that placed second in the state. Five of the runners that placed at states—Erin Roberts, Emma Stanley, Kristin Knouse, Danielle Werley and Chloe Costigan-Humes—all have their PHDs or doctorate degrees. Roberts finished second in that meet in a time of 19:11, just two seconds off the winner, Katie Thaeder of Unionville.
“Cross country runners are typically very good students,” Dodson said. “Looking back over the years, I’m very proud of the runners that have gone on to accomplish the highest level in their chosen career, and ones that are contributing to the community.”
Her cross country runners were also generally a gritty and mentally focused group. She recalls one season in which both of the girls and boys teams qualified for states, yet did not have one single district medalist. It symbolized the team camaraderie that Dodson and her staff focused on over her two years of coaching.
“With cross country, it’s a tough sport,” Dodson said. “You have to be mentally fit. And fortunately a lot of our runners have been able to thrive under pressure. The bigger meets, the better they’ve performed. And that’s relayed over into their life in general.”
In her 17 years as head coach, the Parkland boys teams went 216-9 in regular season meets, while the girls finished with a 202-23 record.