MT: Alcorn State coach Dodgen announces retirement
LORMAN, Miss. – As one of the winningest coaches in the history of Alcorn State University athletics, Anthony Dodgen announced he will retire at the end of the 2017-18 fiscal school year.
Dodgen won 12 SWAC Championships which included eight on the men's side and four on the women. Among head coaches from all sports at Alcorn, the 12 SWAC titles are third-most in school history and the most for any Olympic sport.
Dodgen also claims two more championships personally including the 2006 men's title and the 2015 women's crown. In those seasons, Alcorn fell in the championship match but the winning team later had to vacate the title due to NCAA sanctions.
Nevertheless, Dodgen coached the men and/or the women to the finals of the SWAC Championships in 18 of his 21 seasons.
"The tennis program here has been a group of brothers and sisters. We've been a very tight family, and it's been that way for all my years. The men and women come in from all over the world and practice together, play together, eat together and do everything together. We take great pride in working hard and doing things the right way," Dodgen said. "None of this would have ever worked if it wasn't for the family environment that our program created."
Dodgen came to Alcorn in the fall of 1996. He had spent the previous 17 seasons as a high school coach including seven years at St. Aloysius High School in Vicksburg, Mississippi and 10 years at Chamberlain-Hunt Academy in Port Gibson, Mississippi.
"I was hired directly by the president at the time who was Dr. Clinton Bristow Jr. He had gotten word that I was a successful tennis coach in Vicksburg and he also liked that I was a mathematics instructor as well," Dodgen said.
Dodgen, who has also worked in the mathematics department at Alcorn for 21 years, took over the tennis program for Samuel West who coached tennis at the time as well as basketball. President Bristow wanted to put more of an emphasis on tennis including having its own coach.
"When I first came to Alcorn, it was a token program. The courts were a rough gravel surface and the nets were cyclone fences," Dodgen said. "Most of the players were locals and beginner level. The program played the minimum amount of matches to be Division I. Dr. Bristow immediately rebuilt the tennis courts upon my arrival and we had very acceptable courts by my second year."
Dodgen quickly turned the program around and his men's team won the SWAC in 1999 which was his third season. It was the first of three consecutive men's titles for Alcorn. Furthermore, the women's team won back-to-back in 2000-01.
"At the time, Jackson State was dominating tennis and winning every year. After we beat them that first year in 1999, they responded by building their 12-court complex with offices which is the same facility that they still currently use. JSU's facility today was a repercussion of us knocking them off in tennis for the first time," Dodgen said.
Dodgen's recipe for winning was based around international recruiting. He had a contact in Australia which helped bring in foreign athletes to Alcorn for the first time, and then started to build his network with recruiters from Europe and South America.
"I raised the bar for the level of tennis in this conference. The other schools in this league had a hard time accepting that Alcorn was starting to win in tennis. It forced other schools to put more money into tennis and make it a stronger SWAC sport all around," Dodgen said.
Alcorn tennis put together a great streak of championships beginning in 2007 with the men winning. Dodgen's teams won five championships in six years including four on the men's side.
"We've had some great, great players here. A lot of our kids could have played at a ton of other Division I schools, and a lot of schools tried to poach our players."
Dodgen said his most memorable championship was won by the women in 2008. Led by a dominating Swetha Devaraj at number 1 singles, the Lady Braves snapped a four-year streak of falling in the finals and broke through with a five-hour victory over Southern.
Dodgen's final championship came in 2016. The Lady Braves dropped the doubles point when they rallied in singles to win 4-2 over JSU.
"The thing I will miss most is the continuous relationship between me and my players. I remember all of the tennis players to ever come through the program and there's still quite a few who I maintain contact with. I can say that I have great relationships with student-athletes from all over the world," Dodgen said.
Prior to Alcorn, Dodgen spent seven years as both the head tennis coach and the director of mathematics at St. Aloysius High School. Dodgen's teams won the State AA tennis championship all seven seasons.
Before St. Aloysius, Dodgen was the tennis coach at Chamberlain-Hunt Academy in Port Gibson, Mississippi. He started out as a mathematics teacher before the school needed a tennis coach and he accepted the position.
"I didn't know what I was getting into with tennis at Chamberlain. They were looking for a tennis coach and I had played after college so I took the opportunity. I did it for 10 years and it started my tennis career," Dodgen said.
Dodgen played baseball at Wingfield High School in Jackson, Mississippi. He went on to graduate from Southern Miss with a bachelor's in mathematics in 1984 and did not start playing tennis until he was 22 years old. Dodgen earned his master's in education/mathematics from Mississippi College in 1994.
Dodgen's last day at Alcorn is June 30. He said upon retiring, he will move to Oxford, Mississippi and spend more time fishing, hunting and being with his family.
"When I look back at my career at Alcorn, I can say it has been truly a professional-level learning experience. I've had to face adversity and numerous confrontations, and there have been so many along the way that wanted to see me fail," Dodgen said. "The journey has been enjoyable and rewarding. We won so many times by being the underdog and without the support that a Division I program should be supported. The fact that I made it through has made me extremely confident and proud with myself. It's been a career of working miracles."
Coaches with the Most SWAC Championships Won in Alcorn History
1. Davey L. Whitney, 18
2. Shirley Walker, 17
3. Anthony Dodgen, 12
4. Marino Casem, 7
5. Robert Hopkins, 5
Courtesy of Alcorn State Sports Information