- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

WINCHESTER, Va. — In sports, Shenandoah University competes at the NCAA Division III level, the small time. Enrollment is about 2,500. Everything is scaled down the crowds, the budgets, the win-at-all-costs mindset that often seizes bigger schools by the throat. But there was nothing small time about the way Dave Dutton ran his basketball program.

"We always stayed at the best hotels," said Eugene Baltimore, who transferred to Shenandoah in Dutton's second year, 1989. "We were playing in a tournament in Tennessee and all the schools were staying at the same hotel. It was decent, but Coach Dutton said, 'No.' They transferred us, the only team, to a nicer hotel down the street. Then another time, we stayed in a Marriott in Winthrop, South Carolina. It was the same hotel as the Denver Nuggets. We got treated right. There were chandeliers everywhere."

Years later, nothing had changed.

"We stayed in hotels with swimming pools on the inside," said Phil Dixon, who in the mid-1990s became the best player in Shenandoah history. "It's January, and we're swimming."

Baltimore, the assistant boys' and head girls' basketball coach at Brentsville High School in Nokesville, Va., and Dixon, a Baltimore police officer and the brother of Maryland star Juan Dixon, have been thinking about their old coach a lot lately.

On Oct. 29, Dave Dutton died of a heart attack at his home after jogging with his son, David. He was 45. Dutton was a liked and respected figure in this picturesque town of about 25,000 that calls itself "the Top of Virginia," located about 70 miles from Washington. In addition to his duties as head basketball coach, Dutton also was the athletic director at Shenandoah. His death was a shock to everyone.

It also was utterly incomprehensible and beyond belief. Only one month earlier, on Sept. 28, Dutton's wife, Kathy, died of cancer at 42. A thousand people attended a memorial service in the football stadium. Dutton, who had quit as basketball coach to take care of her, gave the eulogy, and people say he was never more eloquent. Kathy Dutton believed in angels, and her husband asked everyone to "be an angel," to reach out and help someone. "Just unbelievable," said Shenandoah basketball coach Rob Harris, who a month later would move people with his eulogy for Dutton.

Through her work as treasurer of Handley High School, her involvement with the cheerleaders there and with the dance team she created at Shenandoah, her good spirits and dogged work-ethic, Kathy Dutton was as visible and as popular as her husband. The Duttons were married for 21 years. They were everywhere, or seemed to be, and now they were gone, leaving four children, a legacy of caring and good work and an entire community asking the same question: "Why?"

There is supposed to be a reason for everything. But the real answer here is that no one knows.

"You're just in total shock," said Harris, who played for Dutton at Shenandoah, worked for him as an assistant and replaced him as coach last year. "You basically sit there and ponder, 'Is this really happening?' 'Are you really in the midst of such a tragedy?' For me, I tend to gravitate toward my spirituality. I understand that God has a plan for all of us.

"I understand that everything in life is peculiar. You try to do your best while you have the time here. I thought David did a great job in a lot of areas. Kathy was a great mother, a great friend. They brought me into their family."

The family. The kids. The first thought is always with the kids. Ryan is 20, a student at James Madison University, his dad's alma mater. Adam is 19. He enrolled at Fork Union Military Academy after starring in football and basketball at Handley but chose to leave during the semester so he could be with his family. He will attend Hampden-Sydney starting next month and hopes to be playing point guard for the Tigers a year from now. Aimee is 16, a junior at Handley and a cheerleader, and David, "Little David," as everyone calls him, is 11, a fifth-grader at John Kerr Elementary School.

When they are not in school, Ryan and Adam will stay at the home of family friends Nancy and Shep Campbell. He is a local businessman who is replacing Dutton as Shenandoah's athletic director. It was Campbell who first showed Dave Dutton around town when he came here in 1988. Aimee and David now live fulltime with Doug and Jean Toan, who also were longtime friends of the Duttons and have become the younger children's legal guardians. Recently, the couple moved into a new home.

It is a large, attractive home, done up right for Christmas with a big tree and presents underneath. Doug Toan, who owns a construction company, has two daughters in college from a previous marriage. But the couple, married for two years, had no children of their own. Now they suddenly have two.

Sitting at his kitchen table, Doug Toan said that about three weeks after Kathy's death, Dave Dutton asked him to take care of his children if anything should happen to him. Toan thought, "Dave, you've been through enough, nothing more's gonna happen." What he said to Dutton was, "Sure, don't let it burden you." A few days later, Dutton went to dinner with the Toans and asked Jean. Her response was the same as her husband's.

"We're fulfilling a wish of his," Doug Toan said. "We're also in a position where we can do so. We have a house that can handle kids. We have a flexible schedule. It's just something we're gonna do, and we'll proceed forward with it. We're gonna give them a household that's stable and loving.

"It's such a unique situation, with the family and how everything's come down. You can't find this in a book, how to act. … It's a shame they're gonna have to grow up faster than most kids. Right now, they're dealt a [expletive] hand, but they're gonna have to play that hand. Where they go is their choice, but they should know that they have the support of a lot of people. A lot of people will do what they can to make their lives easier."

Adam, who wants to be a coach, and Ryan said wherever they go, people stop to express their condolences and wish them well. Some have offered care packages of food, and a bank has set up an educational fund. The other night, everybody went to see Little David play basketball. He's a point guard, too, and Adam saw a lot of himself in his brother. Jean Toan thought of something else.

"I was watching him play," she said, "a little, 11-year-old kid who has just gone through all of this, and I was wondering if he'll ever know how many hundreds of people are pulling for him and just trying to carry him on his way."

But if anyone can truly understand it's Phil Dixon, the 1996 national Division III Player of the Year, whose parents died within a span of several months. Both were heroin addicts, and both died from AIDS. It was no less painful.

"I feel their loss," he said of the Dutton children. "But you don't have any choice but to be stronger. Except to crumble. We weren't gonna crumble."

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Kathy Dutton was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer in September 2000, a type that spreads more quickly in women. She didn't smoke. She was healthy, active, go-go all the time. "I think she had more hours in the day than most people," said Jean Toan, who once ran a modeling school with Kathy.

The treatments, radiation and chemotherapy, started at Winchester Medical Center. They continued at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and when the commuting became too difficult, she was able to get the same treatment at Winchester. In October 2000, Dave Dutton resigned as basketball coach after 12 seasons.

"It was a tough decision, but he had to because of Kathy," said Shep Campbell, whose son, Lang, played basketball with Adam Dutton at Handley High. "He wanted to make sure he did everything he possibly could. Every day he would get an inspirational saying from the computer and put it up in the bedroom. She had 366 of them. He was coaching her, to the very last."

Kathy was a fighter, her friends say, going to work at the high school and attending cheerleading practice until only a few days before she died.

"Her spirit was unbelievable," Rob Harris said. "She never thought for one day she wasn't going to make it." The Duttons were building a new house, and it was important that she got to live there, if only for a little while. She did. Outwardly, Dave Dutton kept a positive face "an attitude that something would happen at the end, a Hail Mary pass or a last-second bucket," Campbell said but the ordeal was taking a toll.

"Sometimes he'd come into my office and be on the brink of crying," Harris said. "My job was to hug him and tell him I loved him."

Like his wife, Dave Dutton took care of himself. He was in reasonably good shape, although he hadn't been working out as much as he would have liked. He recently had begun jogging again. After Kathy's service, Harris said he and Dutton talked about "a lot of things." Harris reminded Dutton he had a lot to live for, his children and his commitment to the Shenandoah athletic department, on which Dutton had made a huge impact.

"David always had a zest for life," Harris said. "But I think a part of him did leave."

Part of Dave Dutton also left when he stepped down as basketball coach. All his life he was a gym rat. He grew up in Sterling, Va., attended Broad Run High School and enrolled at James Madison, where he would earn undergraduate and graduate degrees. And where, also, he wasn't very good on the court. He played on the junior varsity for Mike Fratello, who went on to bigger things as an NBA coach and television commentator.

Fratello remembered that Dutton "seemed to be a guy who really loved the game, who really had an affection for the game." After failing to make the varsity, Dutton became a manager and then a graduate assistant to coach Lou Campanelli.

"He loved ball; he was always talking ball," said Sherman Dillard, a former star at James Madison and now the Dukes' coach. "It's difficult to make sense out of anything like this."

Campanelli, who left James Madison for the University of California in 1985 and now is the Pac-10 supervisor of officials, said he stayed in touch with Dutton through the years. He said Dutton occasionally would get "itchy feet" and make some noise about perhaps returning to Division I as an assistant coach. "I'd tell him, 'You've got a nice job. You'd be crazy if you ever left,'" Campanelli said.

After graduating from college, Dutton coached at a couple of high schools in Virginia, then returned to James Madison as an assistant to John Thurston, Campanelli's replacement. Three years later, in 1988, everyone got fired. Dutton, now married to the former Kathy Eaton, who was a few years behind him at Broad Run, was looking for work when former Campanelli assistant Bill Leatherman recommended Dutton to Shenandoah president James Davis. Leatherman, the coach at Bridgewater (Va.) College, was a former college teammate of Davis.

"I always said this about his demeanor, that he played hard, he coached hard, but when it was over he had an attitude about it I was always envious of," Leatherman said of Dutton. "Once it was over, he was totally relaxed. I think it would have been great fun to play for him."

Dutton got the job at Shenandoah, and more. He also had to be athletic director. Davis, in the midst of improving and expanding virtually every aspect of the campus, knew he had his man. "I was really impressed with the Division I mentality that he applied to Division III athletics," he said.

Dutton considered himself a coach first, but he threw himself into the AD job, helping to carry out Davis' mandate. "He embraced it wholeheartedly," Davis said. When Dutton took over, there were nine varsity sports and eight full-time coaches. Today there are 16 sports and 15 full-time coaches. Dutton went out and worked the town, soliciting sponsors, haranguing sportswriters about getting more publicity, selling the program. In 2000, Shenandoah fielded a football team for the first time in 33 years. This year a new field house opened along with the new, 2,500-seat Shentel Stadium for football. Partly through Dutton's work, the Shenandoah Telecommunications Company (Shentel) ponied up $750,000 over 10 years for the naming rights, which is unprecedented at the Division III level.

As basketball coach, Dutton made a sudden, dramatic and immediate impact. Introducing a crowd-pleasing, uptempo style, he coached the Hornets to a 21-9 record and a berth in the Division III tournament during his first season. That year also was marked by a 114-40 loss to Georgetown, which featured Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo (Shenandoah was a late replacement for Arizona), but Dutton was making it clear his team would back down to no one.

The way Dutton's teams played made an strong impression on Eugene Baltimore, then a sophomore at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., who had played for Dutton as an eighth-grader at James Madison's summer camp. After playing Shenandoah, Baltimore decided he wanted to transfer, and he ended up starring for the Hornets for two seasons.

"He was a player's coach," Baltimore said. "He liked the uptempo game. He gave you a lot of free reign, but he was always coaching. I mean always. But he let you go ahead and do your thing."

Dutton was tough with his players Dixon remembers being thrown out of practice not because he did anything wrong but because he was the star and Dutton wanted to send a message and even tougher on officials. "He thought referees were put here to torment coaches and ruin the game of basketball," Shep Campbell said. They still talk about the time Dutton, recovering from a broken leg, coached in a wheelchair and spent the game wheeling back and forth, ranting at the refs.

"Kids wanted to play for him," Baltimore said. "Before he got there, the gym was dead. There was no electricity. When I played for him, it was like a total turnaround. The student body, the community, were totally into it. The place was jumping."

Dutton's first three teams were 61-23, twice making the NCAA Division III tournament. He got the games on radio and turned Shingleton Gym into the "Hornet's Nest." Dutton's later teams were never quite as successful, with a renaissance during the Dixon years. Mainly, however, the program was on the map. Dutton's dream was to build a new basketball arena, and there is talk of that becoming a reality, a cooperative effort between the town and the university. Shep Campbell, the new AD, has accepted the baton and will help try to make it happen.

"The more I thought about it, the more I thought that maybe it's time to give something back," Campbell said. "Dave had a vision. I want to try to build on what he started."

The rest of the town is pitching in, too.

"Everyone is on constant vigil to make sure everything's OK," Campbell said. "I think a lot more people are recognizing the importance of family."

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