DENNIS DODSON and Bob Calloway hardly could have been more different in terms of personality. But both left indelible marks, both at James Monroe High School and the Rappahannock Area YMCA.
And both will be sorely missed.
“I’m really sad,” YMCA Chief Executive Officer Barney Reiley said Thursday. “The Y was really blessed to have both those guys in our orbit. They were instrumental in our growth.”
Less that two weeks after Dodson succumbed to complications of ALS (better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Calloway died Wednesday of apparent heart issues.
Calloway dedicated most of his 73 years to his love of tennis—first as JM’s successful coach, then as the tennis director at the YMCA that Dodson helped develop.
“It’s really hard,” said JM coach Rich Serbay, who knew both men well. “Dennis was one of the best football players ever at James Monroe, and Bob was probably the best coach ever. They were two great individuals.”
In their own ways, both Dodson and Calloway were game-changers in Fredericksburg-area sports and recreation.
The mild-mannered Calloway coached JM’s boys tennis team for 31 years, winning three state championships and coming close several other times. Reiley called him “an icon.”
Calloway stepped down in 2003 to take over the YMCA’s program, working with players of all ages and skill levels.
“The experience and knowledge he had [was key], because he’d been doing it for so long,” said Jim Light, who succeeded Calloway as the Y’s tennis director. “If we had a meeting with all of the area’s tennis people together, we wanted him there.”
Calloway came out of retirement last spring to help coach the JM girls in their run to the Class 3 state title match after head coach Robin Castles had a family schedule conflict.
And though football and tennis require vastly different skill sets, Calloway found a big admirer in Serbay.
“He was one of the hardest-working men I’ve ever known,” Serbay said. “I’ll always remember our conversations. He was one of my best friends.”
Added Reiley: “The YMCA is devastated. Bob was kind of a grandfather to the staff. Everybody had an exchange with Bob at some point or another, and they all thought the world of him. He was so easy-going and kind. He was a true gentleman.”
That term wasn’t the first one most of his friends would apply to Dodson, a larger-than-life figure who was as outgoing as Calloway was reserved.
“Dennis was full of life, and he lived his life wide open,” Reiley said, “but he was also an incredible guy.”
After starring in football and basketball at JM—where he scored the game-winning basket in the 1969 state championship game—Dodson started for three years for Virginia Tech’s football team. His tenure included some success but also a 77–6 loss to Bear Bryant’s Alabama juggernaut in 1973 that provided fodder for Dodson’s legendary story-telling ability.
His gregarious nature helped him become a successful local insurance agent. He also joined the YMCA’s board of directors in the early 1990s, helping raise funds to greatly expanded its Falmouth facilities to include a gymnasium and build facilities in neighboring counties.
Dodson also kept feeding his competitive appetite with weekly racquetball games against Reiley, who was a novice to the sport at the time. Reiley eventually closed the gap and made their self-officiated matches tighter, but he noticed a recurring theme.
“As I got better, he had an uncanny knack that any time there was a contested call, they’d always go in his favor,” Reiley said. “He’d say, ‘I had a really good look at that one.’ But if I won the point, he’d say, ‘I don’t know, let’s play that point over.’ ”
Reiley praised Dodson’s charitable contributions and noted that even after he had overcome cancer and was dealing with ALS at age 67, he’d work in the Y’s weight room, lifting a fraction of the weight he once hoisted.
“He could hardly lift a dumbbell, but he’d lift 5 or 10 pounds. That’s how much pride he had,” Reiley said. “He went out with his boots on. With Bob, it was equally hard, but it was difficult because it caught us off guard.”
This story was updated to correct the spelling of Barney Reiley and his title.