John Dowling, who was hired as the new Lee High baseball coach earlier this week, has always been a baseball guy through and through. When he realized, as a right-handed pitcher at Ithaca College (N.Y.), that he would never be good enough to play professionally, he figured the next best thing would be to one day coach the sport he loves.
"I realized early in my college career the only way I could stay involved in baseball was to coach," he said.
Dowling, who earned his undergraduate degree in history from Ithaca in 2005 and ultimately gained his masters in social studies at Syracuse University in 2007, has gotten his feet wet in the coaching profession as an assistant over the past several years. He said he has tried to learn from each coach he has worked under.
Surprisingly, perhaps his biggest coaching influence has not come in baseball circles but in girls’ basketball while working as an assistant last winter with the Forest Park (Northwest Region) girls’ basketball program in Woodbridge.
There, Dowling was part of head coach Rebecca Tillett’s coaching staff on a Bruins’ team that advanced all the way to the Virginia State AAA semifinals before seeing its season end. Dowling said he grew as a coach working with Tillett and enjoyed his winter with the Bruins’ girl’s team.
"It was a great opportunity for me because it kind of pushed me outside my comfort zone," said Dowling. "I’d never coached anything other than baseball."
At Forest Park, Dowling has taught social studies the past four years and also served as the associate head baseball coach in both 2010 and this past spring 2011 season. Forest Park baseball, following an average 10-10 regular season last spring, went on to capture the Cardinal District tournament with a finals win over a talented Woodbridge High team that had reached the state finals the year before.
This summer, Dowling, who moved to Northern Virginia four years ago, served as pitching coach of the Herndon Braves, members of the summertime wooden bat Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League. Prior to coming to the Braves, he was pitching coach of the Alexandria Aces, also a member of the Cal Ripken league.
Dowling looks forward to his new head coaching duties at Lee, which earlier this year struggled through a 2-17 season under former head coach Brett McColley. Dowling’s coaching philosophy is that athletics often mirrors life experiences in that an individual, like a team, is going to experience ups and downs, good times and bad times. The main thing is for a person, or a team, to continue working hard to become the best he can become.
"There’s going to be adversity," said Dowling, of everyday life affairs or a high school baseball season’s course. "My focus is on competing, really going out and trying your best. Wins and losses are important, but not the end all and be all. I’m more focused on the process [or pursuit of winning]. I want my kids go out and play the right way and compete. I’m a big believer in controlling the things you can control — good attitude and good work ethic."
Dowling, who grew up in Whitesboro, N.Y., and is a lifelong New York Mets fan, resides in Arlington. He will spend much time in the months ahead preparing for the 2012 Lee baseball season. He looks forward to the challenge of helping the Lancers make forward progress in the powerful Patriot District, which consists of some of the best teams in the state in defending Northern Region champion South County, 2010 state champion West Springfield, perennial region power Lake Braddock and talented Woodson.
"I’m excited for the opportunity," said Dowling. "Ever since I graduated from college, I’ve tried to get involved in coaching and have had a passion for baseball."
A press release, sent out by the Lee High sports office and athletic director Lori Barb, reads, "As a result of his experiences, Coach Dowling is a firm believer in hard work and the benefits of competition to produce personal growth. Under Coach Dowling’s guidance, ‘student-athletes’ in the Lancer baseball program will be just that; students first, and athletes second. On the field student-athletes will always compete while maintaining perspective by focusing on the process over the result."
<b>EARLIER THIS SUMMER</b>, Lee also named its new head boys’ basketball coach, Kosa So, to take over for longtime former Lancer coach Michael Harris.
Much like Dowling with the Lancers’ baseball program, So will be looking to help improve a program which experienced just one overall win this past winter season. Over his 18 years at the helm, Harris established a reputable program.
So has been the Fairfax High boys’ JV basketball coach the past nine years. There, he accumulated a winning record, including an 11-5 mark last year.
Back in the 1980s, Lee basketball captured a state title under coach Charlie Thompson. The Lancers have a heralded history in the sport but have struggled in recent years.
"Lee has a great basketball tradition, including a state championship title, and I look forward to continuing that tradition by building a program that the Lee students, administration, alumni, fans, and the community can be proud of," So said, in a press release put out by the school.
"Through a strong work ethic and a commitment to excellence both on the court and in the classroom, I hope to produce championship-quality teams that are prepared to compete at the highest level."
So was born in Cambodia and has resided in Fairfax County since 1979. He is a graduate of Falls Church High School, where he played basketball for four years. As a high school senior, So was the top three-point shooter in the Northern Region, breaking the school record for most three-point shots made during a single. He was the Jaguars’ leading scorer that 12th grade year and the team Most Valuable Player as well.
So went on to play college basketball at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg. He earned his undergraduate degree at Mary Washington and eventually graduated with honors from the American University Law School.
So is a criminal defense attorney in Northern Virginia and is owner of an established law firm in the City of Fairfax. He and wife Ashley, who is a life science teacher at Lake Braddock Secondary, have three children.