Loudoun County high schools did not have any girls' sports teams when Kathleen Dugger became a physical education and health teacher in 1969.
A year later, she started pushing for a girls' athletics program. P.E. teachers Karen Baker and Anne Brooks joined the cause. Baker, a long-time Loudoun P.E. and health teacher, has since retired. Brooks is now principal of Park View High School. She and Dugger are retiring this year.
Dugger spent 37 years teaching in the county school system. She taught at Loudoun County High School in Leesburg, the Broad Run High School Annex in Leesburg, Broad Run High School in Ashburn, and then Park View High in Sterling.
The trio met with initial success, but it came with a price, albeit figuratively. "We coached for free for a year or two. You had to get your own officials and your own transportation," Dugger recalled. "Karen Baker, Anne Brooks and I were fighting in the trenches for money and recognition.
"They refused to say we existed, until they realized they couldn't get us to go away."
"THEY" were the school officials who made the budget decisions, making sure the boys' athletic programs, not girls', were funded.
Dugger said the women coaches finally got $100 a season. The situation improved with the passage of Title IX, a federal law that provided equity in boys’ and girls' access to sports and sports facilities.
"When I stopped teaching gymnastics [in 1990], I was making $3,000," she said.
Coaching was a whole new ball game for Dugger and her peers. Softball was easy, because it was a "known" sport, she said. But she had a serious learning curve when it came to gymnastics. "I had a little dance background that helped me," she said, placing an emphasis on "little."
She read books, watched videos, talked to other coaches, and attended camps. "It was a studied sport for me," she said. "Everybody was a source."
As gymnastics' sophistication grew, so did the need for more knowledge.
Kathy Harris, whose maiden name was Anch when she attended Broad Run High School, said "Miss Dugger" was her softball and gymnastics coach.
Harris, who graduated in 1976, said Dugger studied and tested to become a judge so that she would know how to help the athletes develop routines. "Then the most memorable moment came when I won the state championship in gymnastics," Harris said. "I give Miss Dugger a lot of the credit, because she did her homework and knew what it took to get there."
Brooks also credited Dugger with continually studying her craft and developing educated students and talented athletes. "Because of her dedication to teaching and learning, several generations of students learned what it takes to win, even to the level of five state championships." Brooks was referring to Dugger's Park View record. At Broad Run, her gymnastic teams won a district championship and were runners up on regional and state levels.
DUGGER GRADUATED from East Tennessee State University in 1968, with majors in health and physical education and biology. She said she always intended to be a teacher and wanted a subject that would keep her outdoors. That was important, because she was used to being there, having grown up on a farm.
Dugger said she lost her drawl before she left her hometown. "With forensics and drama in high school, they beat that out of me," she said, with a smile. "Plus, my mother was British. That helped some."
She selected Virginia, because she graduated in December and finding mid-term teaching jobs was difficult. Loudoun County was beginning to have its first growth spurt, she said. She took over for a pregnant instructor.
Unlike today when references and fingerprints are a must, she never had an interview. "They said, 'If you take us without seeing us, we'll take you.'"
Dugger admitted to being a little nervous about that, so she called around and checked out the school system before giving her OK.
She taught biology and P.E. and health, but most of her time was spent in the gymnasium or her favorite spot — the outdoors. That was until to the mid-to-late ‘90s, when the open air lost its appeal. She was burdened with adult-onset allergies.
Arthritis forced her to give up coaching in 1990. That was more difficult than this year's retirement, she said. Dugger said she couldn't count on her joints to catch a gymnast who weighed on average 120 pounds. "If you can't spot them, it's hard to teach them new things," she said.
Dugger described coaching as her "true love." She said she bonded with her athletes. "You form different relationships and attachments," she said. "You're still a teacher, but it's more like a family. I viewed my teams as family."
HARRIS WOULD agree. She recently invited Dugger and retired teacher Marjorie Lind to her home for dinner. "The memories of her as a coach will always be there," Harris said. "She got to know you as a person as well as an athlete. I would say that was true with most everybody she coached.
"She wasn't just a high-school teacher."
They formed a special rapport, Harris said. "It was something I always hoped my daughter would have." Breighana Harris, a Stone Bridge High School pitcher, was named Most Valuable Player this year.
Cathy Angier, a Broad Run High School cheerleader who graduated in 1974, said she has a lot of respect for Dugger. She will always remember how she could hear the coach shouting at the cheerleaders even before they could see her. "My memory was, 'Hurry or we're going to be in trouble.'"
Those were the days when teachers were strict and students feared the repercussions if they didn't listen, said Angier, who went by her maiden name Kemp. "If she told you to come here now, if she told you to do 10 more sit ups, your split needs to be lower, whatever she said, you did it," Angier said, laughing. "If she said it, she meant it. In a lot of ways, she was a lot like my father."
Dugger set high goals, she said. "She knew it was in us and she would not put up with us not putting out what was needed for our performance. We would surprise ourselves."
Angier said "Miss Dugger" was a good coach. "I was in awe of her. She was so sure of herself. She was confident. And she was confident in us."
IN THE ENSUING years, Dugger earned recognition as an outstanding teacher and coach. Her awards included National Regional Coach of the Year, Alpha Delta Kappa Veteran Teacher of the Year, Parent Teacher Student Association Award and Patriots Club Coaches Award.
Dugger said teaching has carried huge demands. What she liked best about it was the interaction with her students and the fact that no day was like another. "I wish the public knew the depth of feeling teachers feel about the job we do," she said. "It's the love of kids that keep most teachers in education. That's the thing to me that's most important.
"What I would like people to know is I didn't stay in education to give to somebody. I'm too selfish for that. I stayed, because of what it gives me."
Dugger said she has had all year to mentally prepare herself for retirement and she is ready. "I wasn't ready to quit coaching," she said. "I don't think I'd ever be ready to quit coaching."
She said she is retiring because her fatigue, aches and pains won't go away. She plans to settle down in Winchester, where a lot of Loudoun County teachers live and retire. She will work part time to stave off boredom.
As she walks away from her full-time job, she realizes that there's a part of her that will always be 'the coach.'
"I think all teachers are coaches, coaches at life if nothing else," she said. "I'm ready to do this."