Vols' Dooley Says Life Lessons Learned Daily At Orange Grove Center

And Coach's Nephew, Matthew, Continually Inspires The Entire Family

Friday, April 27, 2012 - by Larry Fleming
- photo by Larry Flemming

Orange Grove Center just can’t get enough of the Dooleys.

Vince Dooley, a legendary football coach and athletic director at the University of Georgia until his retirement in 2004, was the featured speaker at the 2011 OGC Breakfast for Champions in the Bucky Williams Auditorium.

On Friday, Derek Dooley, the University of Tennessee football coach and Vince’s son, strolled to the same podium and addressed a large gathering at the annual 7:30 a.

m. breakfast, which is primarily a big old “thank you” to thank all the volunteers that make the center work, as well as one of the center's numerous fundraisers.

“Neither of you was our first choice,” event emcee Jerry Summers, who introduced Dooley, said in a moment of levity while looking at the coach seated to his left on the dais. “We really wanted Barbara.”

Barbara, of course, is the outspoken and strongly opinionated wife of Vince and mother of Derek.

Well, there’s always next year.

“I’m going to work on getting my mother down here so we’ll have a Dooley trifecta at Orange Grove,” the Vols coach said.

Tennessee and the Breakfast for Champions have been linked since the event’s inception. Legendary Vols play-by-play announcer Lindsey Nelson was the first BFC guest speaker, and for a meaningful reason.

Nelson’s daughter, Sharon, was born on July 17, 1948, and a week later doctors told her father and mother the little girl was “irrevocably retarded,” which was the “verbiage of the day,”  as described in an article written on March 5, 2011, by Tom Mattingly, a highly respected Vol historian.

Those same doctors who diagnosed Sharon also told her parents that she could not be expected to livelong.

But, they were wrong. Sharon Nelson died on Feb. 16, 2011, at the age of 62. She had been a long-time client of Orange Grove Center and lived in an apartment at the center’s Supportive Living Section when she died following a battle with Alzheimer’s.

“The great Lindsey Nelson and his daughter spent so much time (at OGC) getting her life enriched,” Derek Dooley said. “I’ve read about and learned about the center, and saw this place has been here since 1953.”

Dooley said the Nelsons’ plight reminded him of a story he saw on television related to the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh in 1995.

“After six years Timothy McVeigh was finally executed for the horrible act that he did and they were interviewing a mother whose daughter had been killed in the bombing,” said Dooley, headed for his third year at Vols coach. “They asked the mother, ‘Do you feel a sense of relief now that Timothy McVeigh’s gone?’ The mother, without even batting an eye, looked at the camera and said, ‘When a poisonous snake bites you, do you chase the snake or do you address the wound?’

“Her point was this: ‘I’ve spent six years addressing the wound and healing and not worrying about Timothy McVeigh. There was nothing I could do about Timothy McVeigh and his not being here was not going to make me feel better.’ ”

Orange Grove Center helping clients with intellectual disabilities since 1953 means two things to Dooley, whose Vols just concluded spring drills.

First, OGC was ahead of its time and there weren’t many places like it. Second, but more importantly, the center has stood the test of time.

“It means,” Dooley said, “you’re doing something right, your values are right, your direction is right, you stay true to your mission. I commend the center for what it has done.

“The goal of providing people with intellectual disabilities valuable and meaningful life experiences and afford an opportunity, boy, what a great line.”

The Dooleys have their own story of dealing with, caring for and loving on a daily basis a family member fighting long odds with disabilities.

Derek Dooley’s nephew, 18-year-old Matthew, been confined to a wheelchair his whole life due to cerebral palsy. Dooley said Matthew has even been to Poland twice for “advanced therapy” and the only things he wants is “a job and to be a part of society.”

Still, Matthew Dooley has a zest for life. In about a week, Matthew will take a tandem jump out of an airplane, and that, to Derek Dooley, is simply beyond belief.

“He can’t walk and he’s going to do this jump down there,” he said. “I asked my brother, ‘How in God’s name are they going to land? It’s hard enough to walk the plank and just jump, but what’s going to happen at the landing?’ And he said, ‘They’ve got it taken care of.”

Dooley said Matthew’s most profound impact on the family – there are 11 cousins – comes each year at the group’s gathering on July the Fourth gathering.

“You see what Matthew brings to that,” he said. “The qualities, the love that spills out, the appreciation, the humility, the passion, qualities that you don’t see in your children as often as you’d like. Matthew, because of his disabilities, not only are we helping him, but we’re helping him because he has such an ability to touch lives of other people.

“And, I know that’s the case here at Orange Grove.”

Dooley spoke a while about Generation Y kids.

He pointed out an “overprotective component to parenting” in this generation. Parents don’t want their kids to get hurt, to fail, but “under the guise of love we’re doing such a disservice to them because they don’t even know what failure is,” he said.

Dooley, like just about every other kid in modern time, rode bikes and took their chances about elbow-scraping, knee-busting wrecks. Today’s kids, he said, wear “a coat of armor – a helmet, elbow pads, knee pads.”

“Why, because they might get hurt,” he added.

And, another thing.

Kids are over-served.

“I see parents shape their entire life around the kids,” Dooley said. “Travel ball. AAU ball. Every minute of the day is structured around a child’s calendar.

“I think about every restaurant we go to, whether its Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, it doesn’t matter. You get a kids’ menu and it’s chicken fingers. I think, ‘What are we doing?’ ”

Here’s something else.

“It used to be dinner,” he said, clearly on a roll. “If you don’t want to eat it, you don’t have to, but you’re not going to eat.”

Dooley said he runs into these problems in dealing with his football players at Tennessee, and it was the same at other places he coached.

“In college, it’s a challenge because they have to deal with failure, with pain and they deal with not having success and they have to learn how to work their way out,” he said.

But, for a person to help another is a gift that can’t be measured, the coach told those in attendance.

He was reminded of another story.

A little boy is walking down the beach and the shore is literally covered with starfish and the tide’s running out. The little boy is picking up the starfish and tossing them back into the water.

An old man walks by and says, “What are you doing, son? What are you doing?”

The little boy says, “Well, the tide’s going out and if I don’t put the starfish back in the water they’re going to die.”

The old man: “Son, there are miles and miles of beaches and thousands and thousands of starfish. There’s no way you can make a difference.”

The little boy bent down, picked up a starfish and threw it back in the water.

“It made a difference to that one,” he said.

“That,” Dooley said, “is what you guys are doing here at this center. It’s something you’ve done for so long. You’re not just making a difference to one, but that thing is permeating all through the community.”

The program closed with a video salute to the Sharon Matthews family involvement with Orange Grove Center. Sharon Matthews’ son, Robbie, who like Matthew Dooley, inspires others despite cerebral palsy, has been a client at OGC for 20-plus years and is now 31 years old, soon to be 32.

Sharon Matthews is an OGC parent and member of the board.

Prior to the breakfast, Dooley talked a little football.

Spring practice:

He would love 15 more days of practice, but he was pleased with every facet of the team.

Dooley said the Vols improved from an intangible standpoint, a chemistry standpoint and a work ethic standpoint.

“The team units and individuals have made tremendous strides,” he said. “I hope we can build on that and have a great summer.”

Progress made since last year’s disturbing season-ending loss to rival Kentucky:

Dooley said the team has gone through “12 great weeks” and has closed the book on some bad memories. He also said the team’s maturity is the best he’s seen in his 24 months in Knoxville.

“We have a settled roster, a roster with experience at most positions, and we have depth at most positions,” he said. “We have holes to fill, some areas that don’t’ have a lot of production, but we’re more settled than we’ve ever been.”

Stability:

Despite having seven new coaches, the transition has been “seamless.”

In his first year at Tennessee, Dooley has an offensive line with a combined total of three starts. When the Vols open the 2012 season against Georgia State, the offensive line will have 99 career starts.

“I think (stability) is number one for us,” Dooley said. “When you’re unstable in any facet of your life, it’s not going well. I’m hoping the stability we have now will allow us to be more consistent and, certainly, be more competitive in every game we play.”

The potential for a BCS playoff after the 2014 season:

Dooley’s father, Vince, pushed for a plus-one model, having a four-team playoff, 20 years ago.

“This isn’t something new,” he said. “We’ve been talking about it for a long time. I think it’s a good way to preserve all that’s good about college football and that’s the regular season. It’s the greatest regular season in all of sports.

“People argue that we don’t have a playoff. I say we do have one and it starts with the first game. We’re in the playoffs every week, so that makes it special.”

Tennessee as a playoff contender in three years:

“All I can do is worry about this season,” Dooley said. “The last thing on my mind is what’s going on in ’14, I can assure you. I’m worried about’12.”

(E-mail Larry Fleming at larryfleming44@gmail.com)

  


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