A full life|[04/03/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 4, 2008

Retired principal, hunter, horseman J.C. Dorman ‘wouldn’t change a thing’

When the bus stopped at Redwood in 1949 and J.C. Dorman got off, he didn’t plan to stay but three years. Thirty eight years later, he retired from coaching, teaching and being a principal at the school, but he still lives not far away.

“I intended getting out of the teaching profession and going somewhere else,” he said. “There were some other things I wanted to do, and I guess there were some other places I wanted to go. I got to saying, ‘Wait until next year.’ I said that for about 20 years and said I might as well quit claiming anywhere else because I’m not going.”

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Dorman was born in Walnut Grove in Leake County, graduated from high school in 1944 and then joined the Navy. Once out of the service, he went to Mississippi College where he played basketball his freshman year, then transferred to Hinds, graduated from Mississippi Southern and returned to MC for his master’s degree.

Lean and lanky, Dorman said he remained the same size for many years — about 6 feet tall, 170 pounds, “but I’ve shrunk some down through the years.”

He’s been an avid athlete, hunter and horseman. Several years ago, after some health problems, his doctor told him to “get off that horse and get in the water, so I go swimming every day. I could miss a whole two months and it wouldn’t take me but about two days to get back to where I was.”

Dorman was swimming when he first had an invitation to come to Redwood for an interview. Floyd Franklin, who had been at Walnut Grove and knew Dorman, but who later moved to Redwood in Warren County as principal, was seated beside a pool in Morton while Franklin’s daughter and Dorman were swimming. The following Monday, Dorman was at Redwood for the interview, the job was offered and he took it. He had finished only three years of college, so he went to Southern during the summer months to complete his degree.

“I taught junior high math and coached,” he said. “I was THE coach — that meant all sports.”

It was quite a few years before he was given an assistant. In 1962, when Franklin retired, Dorman became principal of the school, which was grades one through 12.

He didn’t have to stay at Redwood. He could have gone to Warren Central when it opened in 1965, and he was offered a position in Vicksburg at Cooper.

“H.V. Cooper (city school superintendent) told me to have Mr. Marshall make out a schedule for me, and I said, ‘Mr. Cooper, I ain’t coming,'” Dorman recalled.

Cooper told him that would be his only opportunity, but Dorman had several invitations to other schools each year for several seasons “until I guess they decided I wasn’t going to move.”

Dorman had his good seasons and his bad while coaching, but, he said, “I took each ball game one at a time. When it was over, I tried to leave it on the floors — so it’s impossible to look back to any one particular game.”

He coached some outstanding players.

Johnny Brewer made it to the pros, playing 17 years for the Cleveland Browns. There were others, such as Billy Carl Erwin and Johnny Franklin, who played college ball.

It took material to produce a team, to make coaching possible, “like the Oakes boys and the Porters,” Dorman said, adding that it took good fathers and mothers like they had for the school to have good students.

Dorman has trophies and photos from his years at Redwood, and Johnny Brewer gave him a championship cap from the year the Browns won the world title. Dorman said he was saving it, only for his wife, Dot, to interject, “J.C., you’re 82 years old and you’re saving it?”

Dot, who grew up in Vicksburg and was a Moore, is another reason for Dorman’s successful and happy years at Redwood. Both played ball at the YMCA when they were just out of college. But Dot, who taught P.E. at Carr Central, knew him only as “that baldheaded coach from Redwood.”

In summer school at Southern, she saw him again — and still knew him only by her earlier description. When a mutual friend told her and two other girls that J.C. was going to Redwood that weekend, and they might get a ride, Dot got to know him better. He told her later that he advised his friend, “From now on, volunteer for yourself.”

It was a whirlwind courtship, Dot laughs: “We dated for six years, and decided we weren’t going to do any better.” They married at Crawford Street Church. When he was named principal at Redwood, Dot joined the faculty, teaching junior high English.

It was about the same time that he became principal that he also became interested in horses. He went to Fitler to hunt. He bought a quarter horse, and later a walker, and he was in two local riding clubs, the Red Carpet and the Vicksburg. For seven years, they took top honors as best mounted riding groups at the Dixie National.

“My walking horse was as gentle as a dog,” he said, “and Dot took him away from me, so I took Sylvan Klaus’ leftover, and son, she was a handful, but I finally got her where I could drop my reins and go through the woods and steer her with my legs. She was that sensitive to knowing what I wanted her to do. Smart horse. Good horse, outside the fact that Klaus had put so much hell in her that I never could get it out.”

He brought her home and told Dot, “She won’t let you come close to her. Just put her feed out and go on and it wasn’t two days until the horse was rubbing Dot’s head and hands because she knew who was feeding her.”

Dorman loved hunting so much, he said, that “I started getting ready a month before the season. If it runs or flies, I hunt it,” though he admits that now that he has the time, his membership in the club is honorary.

“I now have free hunting, but I don’t hunt anymore” because of health concerns. He had recovered from a stroke six months ago, and he had a pacemaker put in about a month ago. Years ago, he and Dot made a deal: she wouldn’t take him to any more Carr Central reunions if he didn’t ask her to go duck hunting anymore.

Does he garden now that he has retired?

“NO,” he answered emphatically. “My gardening is from friends and neighbors or whatever store I’m closest to. When I was growing up, I worked on an ice truck, got in around 12:30, ate lunch, and then worked in the garden until dark. I thought to myself then, ‘When I get grown, never again.'”

Coach Dorman sees no comparison between school when he was at Redwood and public schools today.

“I got out just in time, because I would never have lasted,” he said. “If they hadn’t fired me, somebody would have killed me.”

He ran a tight ship with the philosophy, “Be fair to everyone. Period. And don’t show any favoritism. One set of rules applies to us all.”

He agrees that Redwood was the right place for him.

“If I had it to do over, I’d do the same things,” he said. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

That’s just the way the teachers, staff and students would want it, too.

*Gordon Cotton is an author and historian who lives in Vicksburg.