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Hartselle Enquirer

Mitzi Dobbins beats the odds as a softball coach

By Staff
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
Mitzi Dobbins is not your usual girls softball coach.
First, she's a woman who had to prove herself in a man's world. Second, she's a quadriplegic whose only means of getting around is in a motorized wheelchair. And third, she's a whiz at taking girls other coaches wouldn't give a second look to and molding them into championship caliber players.
Dobbins reached a high point in her five-year coaching career last week when her Belles division all-star team swept through district tournament play with an unbeaten record and earned the right to compete in the state championship tournament in Eufaula later this week.
"My dream is to take my girls to the Dixie World Series," Dobbins said. "I was fortunate to be able to do that and I want them to experience what I did."
She believes this year's team has a good chance to get there.
"I've coached most of these girls before, both in tournament ball and Dixie League," she said. "They're very dedicated and have a lot of talent and experience."
Dobbins starting playing league softball in Hartselle at the age of five and soon developed into an outstanding catcher. She was a member of several all-star teams including two World Series participants-the 1984 Ponytails and the 1986 Belles. A broken foot caused her to miss out on the opportunity to play for the 1985 world champion Ponytails.
"My mom pushed me the most and my dad paid the way," Dobbins said. "I had the best equipment money could buy."
Dobbins' softball career ended suddenly at the age of 16. Her spinal cord was severed when she was thrown from the passenger side of a pickup truck in an accident on Indian Hills Road. She was hospitalized in Huntsville for 52 days and spent the next four months undergoing therapy in a Birmingham hospital. Since then she has been confined to a wheelchair.
That didn't prevent her from wanting to coach, however.
"I saw kids falling through the cracks and I wanted to give them an outlet," she said. "Also, my niece, Leah Dobbins, started playing softball at the age of 10. Kids involved in sports usually stay out of trouble. That's why I got into coaching."
She took over an Angels (9-10) team after the season started and came in third. She moved up to Ponytails (11-12) the next season and experienced her first and only losing season.
"I went through my first draft going up against six men," she said. "We didn't win a game until the final game of they year."
The next season her Ponytails team went through the season undefeated. Her first Belles (13-15) division compiled a 9-3, won the season championship and gave her the opportunity to coach the all-stars.
She started coaching a traveling team-Encore Elite-three years ago and has earned a reputation as a tough competitor against many of the top teams in North Alabama and Southern Central Tennessee. Many of the girls that make up her 14 and under team started with her as12 and under players. Her current team competed against both 12 and under and 14 and under teams in 2005. They won first place honors in seven tournaments and second place in two.
"I decided to coach a tournament team after my niece Leah walked off the field and told me if I didn't coach her she was done with softball," Dobbins said. "I recruited mostly girls who wanted to play the game but who weren't being recruited by other coaches. I wanted them to have a chance to play.
"I try to be their mama when they're away from their mamas. What bothers me the most about being in a wheelchair is that I can't get down on the ground with them when they're get hurt and need help."
Dobbins said she couldn't do what she does without the help of Larry Dutton, a devoted companion and assistant coach, and Jeff Gray, her other assistant coach.
"I sit and tell them what I want and they do it," she said.
She also expressed appreciation to Encore for its backing and providing a facility for her team to work out in; the Parks and Recreation Department for allowing the team to use its facilities; and Hartselle High head softball Coach Shane Alexander for his support and encouragement.
What's ahead for Coach Dobs? Hopefully, it'll be a trip to the Dixie Softball World Series in 2006. If not then, maybe later. Kih Dobbins, her 5-year-old niece, loves the game and wants her aunt to be her coach..

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