Space Coast Hall of Famer Laura Dixon’s Legacy Unparalleled Among Brevard’s Coaches

By  //  March 14, 2014

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SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME SPOTLIGHT

COACH LAURA DIXON – 2013 INDUCTEE

Coach Laura Dixon

• FHSAA Hall of Fame Inductee

• FACA Hall of Fame Inductee

• Two State Volleyball Titles

WOMENS HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS PIONEER

Laura Dixon enjoys an occasional round of golf, taking photos of birds at Brevard County’s various wildlife refuges and watching an occasional high school volleyball match or softball game.

That’s the reward in retirement for a pioneer coach, who made sure that many girls shunned the role of spectator to become athletes in their own right.

When Dixon became a physical education instructor at Titusville High School in 1970, team sports for girls were not recognized by the Florida High School Athletics Association. There was the Girls Athletic Association (GAA), but it was limited to games within the county.

Title IX decreed in 1972 that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Title IX soon changed that when it decreed in 1972 that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance …”

Despite the new law, coaches such as Dixon had to coax their athletic directors to share the funds  which had gone exclusively to the boys in the past.

“Initially, it was a minimal amount,” said Dixon, who turned 66 in January and is a candidate for the 2013 Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame’s induction class. “We had money allotted for 40 uniforms to be shared by the volleyball, basketball and softball teams. There were a variety of sizes and they were double knit with a zipper in the front. They lasted eight years.”

Jack O’Brien retired as athletic director and he was replaced by Kirk Stewart, who had become a teacher at Titusville High School the same year as Dixon. Stewart later was a successful basketball coach at Brevard Community College and Astronaut High School.

ADVOCATE FOR OPPORTUNITY

“Kirk had to deal with a lot of new things with girls varsity sports,” Dixon said. “We kept it between A.D. and coach and we didn’t let it affect Laura and Kirk. I told Kirk ‘girls should have the same benefits, and that you have two daughters. I can’t imagine them not playing basketball.’ We’re still friends to this day. I had to go toe to toes with not only Kirk but the whole county. I realized that I was able to achieve my goals at Florida State of teaching physical education and coaching. I wanted to coach girls and help them get scholarships to go to college. I didn’t have the opportunity to have college paid for.”

Dixon, who will celebrate her 44th wedding anniversary on June 21 to former aerospace engineer Howard Dixon, didn’t get a chance to play high school sports at North Miami High School or at Florida State University as Laura Anzalone.

“I overheard one of the coaches talking about FHSAA rules and he told me, ‘Laura, women don’t have varsity sports, so you won’t have to worry about it.’ I thought about what he said, and how one day I wanted this to change.” Laura Dixon

“I was a gym rat at North Miami and a woman P.E. teacher knew that I knew the lesson plans and she let me teach a class one day,” Dixon said. “I overheard one of the coaches talking about FHSAA rules and he told me, ‘Laura, women don’t have varsity sports, so you won’t have to worry about it.’ I thought about what he said, and how one day I wanted this to change.”

It didn’t change in Tallahassee while Dixon was attending Florida State, where she received her B.S. in Physical Education. Dixon did excel in several women’s intramural sports and was named to the F Club. Years later, FSU bestowed varsity letters to all members of the F Club.

After graduating from FSU in 1968, Dixon taught at Palm Springs Junior High for one year and at Cutler Ridge Junior High for one year. During her first year at Titusville High School, Dixon coached volleyball, basketball and track and field as part of the GAA. She also was the junior varsity cheerleading coach.

Five years later, Titusville fielded its first FHSAA girls volleyball team after the Title IX ruling. That 1975 squad went 9-2. Dixon’s softball team posted a 12-3 record in the spring and reached the State Final Four, where it fell in the semifinals.

Coach Laura Dixon and the Titusville Terriers celebrate after winning the 1981 Class 3A state volleyball championship. (Image courtesy Laura Dixon)

TWO STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS

In 1981, Titusville won the first of its two state championships in volleyball under Dixon. Michelle Grubka, who earned a scholarship to play for the University of South Florida, and Kelly Tonner, who earned a scholarship from the University of Louisville, starred for the squad which finished with a 25-4 record.

Other members of the team included: Bonnie Binderup, Cynthia Blackmon, Tami Bruce, Cheryl Conklin, Pam Conolly, Renee Cumberland, Lisa Harvey, Rosie Kollar, Julie Krause, Janet McCrary and Sherry Whittmann.

The Terriers trounced Auburndale 15-2, 15-1 in the regionals and Cypress Lake 8-15, 15-8, 15-12 in the sectionals. Titusville ousted perennial state power Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons 16-14, 15-7 in the state semifinals before beating Shanks 15-5, 15-12 for the Class 3A title in Titusville’s gym.

Gibbons has won 18 state titles, the most of any volleyball program in the state.

“Larry Gilreath had a weight training class and it wasn’t just for football players,” Dixon said. “Five of my girls were in the program and they loved it. We had girls who could do more dips than the boys. There were a lot of cross country, basketball and football players in that class and a lot of camaraderie. Plus, Titusville’s gym didn’t have air conditioning. It could get above 100 degrees, and the other teams were wiped out.”

The party continued at Draa Field where Titusville and Astronaut were playing their annual football battle to establish bragging rights in the city.

“It was standing room only by the time we got there. We were on the field at halftime with our state championship trophy and the kids were being interviewed. It was an unbelievable experience.” Laura Dixon

“It was standing room only by the time we got there,” Dixon said. “We were on the field at halftime with our state championship trophy and the kids were being interviewed. It was an unbelievable experience.”

Titusville later won state football titles in 1982 and 1983 under coach Al Werneke.

McCrary, who was a sophomore on the 1981 championship team, was the star player on the 1983 Class 3A state title team which outlasted Louise Crocco’s Cardinal Gibbons team by a score of 15-9, 11-15, 15-9 in the final at Vanguard High in Ocala.

“Janet was also an outstanding athlete in basketball and track and field,” Dixon said. “She had an unbelievable vertical leap of over 2 feet. She went to UAB on a full ride. We were a taller and much more physically impressive team that year.”

Martha Ryans, a junior on that team, later played for the University of Florida and set a then-Gators’ record for defensive blocks.

Coach Laura Dixon shouts instructions to a Titusville High School volleyball team during the 1983 season. The Terreirs went on to win a second state volleyball championship that year under Dixon. (Image courtesy Laura Dixon)

‘WE WERE ON CLOUD 9’

On their way to the 1983 state title, the Terriers defeated Fort Pierce Central 15-6, 15-7 in the regionals and Port Charlotte 10-15, 15-13, 15-13 in the sectionals.

Titusville ousted host Vanguard 15-13, 15-9 in the state semifinals before its three-set victory against Gibbons in the final.

“We were down 11-0 in the second game of the sectionals down in Naples or Fort Myers,” Dixon said. “The floor was some sort of indoor, outdoor carpeting and the girls had trouble moving their feet. That was the greatest comeback team we ever had.”

Teaching at Titusville High School also was truly special and memorable experience during that time period.

“There’s nothing like the support the football and the volleyball teams got that year,” Dixon said. “We were on Cloud 9. All the athletes worked together to do the best job they could. The spirit of the school, the involvement of the teachers and the way they rallied around us was something.”

Eau Gallie, under coach Sandy Rabun, defeated Brandon 18-16, 15-13 to win the Class 4A title in 1983, which was the highest classification at that time.

“We beat them (Eau Gallie) in the CCC (Cape Coast Conference), so we considered ourselves to be the Class 4A champion, too,” Dixon said. “They had a very good team and it was a big test and a battle for us. At Astronaut, Jeanne Andrews won a state title in 1980. The whole conference – we made each other better.”

Besides McCrary and Ryans, other members of the 1983 championship team included: Melanie Barna, Patty Blum, Terry Corbett, Kathy Forbes, Kristen Goff, Lisa Harvey, Kim Nyul, Carmellia Shivers, Andrea Swartz and Kelly Tobin. The team finished with a 25-2 record.

Lauara Dixon coached volleyball at Titusville High School for 25 seasons going 359-152 overall and winning two state titles. (Image courtesy Laura Dixon)

RETIRED FROM COACHING IN 1999

In 1985, Cardinal Gibbons defeated Titusville 15-10, 15-11 at Land O’Lakes High to win the Class 3A title.

“That team needed one more hitter,” Dixon said. “We had three strong hitters, but we needed a fourth. We weren’t embarrassed. There has to be a winner and a loser. We did all you can do.”

Titusville defeated Fort Pierce Central 15-9, 15-6 in the regionals and Lemon Bay 15-5, 13-15, 15-3 in the sectionals. In the semifinals, the Terriers ousted Pine Forest 15-10, 15-7. The team finished with a 24-4 record.

“I am proud of my state championships,” said Dixon, who posted a 359-152 record as a volleyball coach. “We had to beat the best of that time, which was Cardinal Gibbons. That was a big deal for little Titusville High. That group has 18 state championships. It would have been 20 if it weren’t for us.”

Besides the two state titles and the one state runner-up spot, the Terriers won three sectional championships, five regional championships, eight district titles and five CCC titles under Dixon. She retired from coaching volleyball after the 1999 season and from teaching in 2003.

Besides the two state titles and the one state runner-up spot, the Terriers won three sectional championships, five regional championships, eight district titles and five CCC titles under Dixon.  She retired from coaching volleyball after the 1999 season and from teaching in 2003.

An elbow injury forced her to give up coaching softball after the 1991 season.

Dixon was inducted into the FHSAA Hall of Fame in 2004. She was named Teacher of the Year by Titusville in 1990. Dixon was the third woman to be inducted into the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1997. Dixon was named the FACA Volleyball Coach of the Year in 1981 and 1983.

Titusville High’s top female athlete is honored each year with the Laura Dixon Female Athlete of the Year Award.

Dixon took her role as both a teacher and coach seriously.

“I taught physical education – I didn’t just roll out the ball,” Dixon said. “Those kids in my classes learned how to play volleyball, how to score and how to officiate. In my water safety class, a child could come in and learn CPR, first aid and become a senior lifeguard to go get a summer job.”

She will be inducted into the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame on May 10.

Athletes who earned received college scholarships playing for Laura Dixon:                                 Volleyball: 1977: Elizabeth Schutte, Brevard Community College; Julie Kerr, Brevard Community College 1980: Lisa Wassmuth, Daytona Beach Community College 1982: Michelle Grubka, University of South Florida; Kelly Tonner, University of Louisville 1983: Cheryl Conklin, Stetson University 1984: Janet McCrary, University of Alabama; Lisa Harvey, University of South Dakota 1985: Martha Ryans, University of Florida 1986: Kelly Tobin, Southwestern Louisiana 1988: Irene Cathy, University of Montevallo 1989: Susie Baumgardner, Florida Tech 1991: Elisa Bartolo, Florida Tech; Jennifer Petelle, Georgia Southern 1992: Jennifer McNally, Georgia Southern 1993: Rachael Spinner, Jacksonville State University 1994: Alicia Bell, Brevard Community College 1995: Karen Eccleston, Tusculum College 1996: Amy McEwen, Florida Tech 1998: Ami Blitch, Brevard Community College 1999: Cindy Compton, Clearwater Christian College                                                                                                                             Softball: 1977: Cathy Norton, Florida State; Julie Kerr, Brevard Community College 1978: Carol Sanborn, Seminole Community College 1983: Tami Bruce, United States Military Academy; Cheryl Conklin, Stetson University 1985: Andrea Swartz, Stetson University 1986: Charlene Manning, Brevard Community College 1991: Elisa Bartolo, Florida Tech

Laura Dixon’s coaching records:                                                                                                                   Volleyball: 1975: 9-2 1976 10-3 1977: 9-5 1978: 9-5 1979: 11-5 1980: 9-3 1981: 25-4 1982: 20-3 1983: 25-2 1984: 23-1 1985: 24-4 1986: 15-5 1987: 16-6 1988: 11-7 1989: 12-8 1990: 15-4 1991: 6-9 1992: 10-6 1993: 13-7 1994: 18-7 1995: 17-10 1996: 15-12 1997: 16-11 1998: 14-10 1999: 7-13 Total: 359-152  Softball: 1976: 12-3 1977: 8-8 1978: 5-13 1979: 4-17 1980: 13-14 1981: 8-13 1982: 13-14 1983: 13-10 1984: 15-10 1985: 16-7 1986: 13-10 1987: 8-14 1988: 6-16 1989: 2-18 1990: 4-17 1991: 2-19 Total: 142-203  

THE 2017 SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME Banquet and Induction Ceremony will take place at the Cocoa Beach Country Club on Friday, May 12.

FOR INFORMATION about the 2017 Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame Induction dinner call 321-615-8111 or e-mail Contact@SpaceCoastDaily.com

CLICK HERE TO SEE ALL THE SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES


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14 Comments on "Space Coast Hall of Famer Laura Dixon’s Legacy Unparalleled Among Brevard’s Coaches"

  1. Heather(Holly) Heineman September 10, 2012 at 12:48 pm · Reply

    Coach Dixon by far, was one of the best teachers at THS. She knew how to make you work hard and always made sure you were towing the line. You always wanted to give her respect because she always gave it. Congrats on being elected and I hope you make it in…You darn well deserve it. THS class of ’92

  2. Sheila Goff October 24, 2012 at 5:30 pm · Reply

    Not only did the team have a wonderful experience under Coach Dixon, the parents of the kids also had wonderful, exciting times. Laura was an intense teacher that demanded commitment, discipline and team spirit. She gave 100% in all that she did. She was also a fantastic Anatomy/Physiology teacher. I have the fondest memories of Laura and thank her from the bottom of my heart for all the things she quietly did for those students in need at THS. I don’t believe she ever took home a dollar of her pay, as she was always feeding hungry children and helping them achieve their potential in any way possible. She was more than a coach, she was a quiet warrior for underdogs.

  3. Susan Brown Foster October 25, 2012 at 8:48 pm · Reply

    Laura was among the best when it came to teachers at Titusville High. I wasn’t lucky enough to play on one of her championships teams, because I was pre-Title IX. But I did play on several of her sports teams under the Girls Athletic Association (GAA). She was demanding and for that I always respected her. Her best characteristic was caring. I was fortunate to have her and other good physical education teachers at THS. They all taught great classes. I am a college professor now and much of my desire to enter a field related to sport was because of Laura and all the great teachers there.

  4. Darryll Gaymon December 21, 2012 at 11:50 pm · Reply

    Coach Dixon one of the greatest coaches ever in the state of Florida!!!! Congrats on a great honor.

  5. Lori Willoughby April 8, 2013 at 8:37 pm · Reply

    Coach made me cry on more than one occasion in class and practice. But as Sheila mentioned earlier, she made us all better people and built our character because she demanded that we be better people, work harder, give more. We loved her and knew she loved us. After becoming a teacher myself and becoming a peer to her, she always maintained that sense of excellence and pushed others around her to be their best as well. Congrats, Coach!

  6. Keith Boland April 9, 2013 at 10:27 am · Reply

    Way to to. Well deserved.

  7. Amy (McEwen) Atkinson April 10, 2013 at 9:36 am · Reply

    Congratulations Coach Dixon! Coach always wanted you do to do your best. I learned many life lessons from her and this is a well deserved nomination.

  8. Natasha Kremer April 17, 2013 at 9:02 am · Reply

    From teacher to mentor, Coach Dixon makes a tremendous impact on my life still today. She taught me to keep my standards high and true. Some people are all “talk”, but Coach Dixon is the real deal. She lives what she preaches and is an incredible role model. One of my favorite inspirational talks from her was “if the kids(athletes) love or hate you then you’re doing your job. They should never be indifferent. Make an impact on their life and make them care.” Thank you Coach!!!

  9. Audrey Parker April 17, 2013 at 9:15 am · Reply

    Laura dear, I’m so proud of you and send my love and congratulations on your achivements. You know how much I love you and rejoice in your praise from your students and friends. Audrey

  10. Jan Cope April 17, 2013 at 9:51 am · Reply

    I am thrilled for COACH LAURA DIXON for recognition of her coaching and teaching while at Titusville High School. She was one of the many young women who placed Title IX into action and demonstrated how women in sport could benefit by accessing a system that did everything possible to prevent their participation. I never had the opportunity to play for Coach Dixon as I graduated from THS in 1971, but I heard her speak with passion and pride that women could do ANYTHING they placed their minds to accomplish. I took those words with me as I left for Florida State University majoring in physical education and being one of those young women on the brink of major change for women in sports. Title IX changed women in sports and Laura Dixon changed women personally by installing confidence and challenged them as they had not been challenged before. Congratulation Laura!! Always knew you were one of the best!!!

  11. Kathryn Forbes April 17, 2013 at 8:22 pm · Reply

    I was lucky enough to learn discipline and grit from Coach Dixon. As a sportswoman who attended school before Title IX and coached after its passage, Coach Dixon deeply understands the value of sports to girls’ physical and emotional maturation. No doubt she aimed to win, but she also wanted us to develop into independent women who knew what gender equity meant and who demanded it in our educations and jobs. Though I did not fully understand the legal parameters of her actions at the time, I will never forget watching her argue with a male coach over gym access for the girls’ volleyball team. She kept explaining to the coach about what was fair even as he alternated between dismissing her arguments, feigning ignorance, and becoming angry. She was undaunted. We got our access. I remember being impressed not only by her keen ability to make her case but, more importantly, how unapologetic she was in demanding that girls be given their entitlements and that they be treated fairly. It was an important, formative experience for me that pops into my consciousness at the most unexpected times and has undoubtedly helped me become an unapologetic feminist too. Proudly, our eight year old daughter, who has never met Coach Dixon, knows who I am invoking when I tell her to “buck up and fight.”

  12. Linda Hesher McLean April 19, 2013 at 9:20 pm · Reply

    I competed against Coach Dixon’s teams as a cross-town rival at Astronaut High School from 1974-1976. We knew her teams were well prepared and were always a force to be dealt with. But she was not just a coach of the opposing team. My senior year I got pretty sick and was out for about two weeks. She came to my house with one of her players (Libby, my future roommate as freshmen at FSU) to visit and check on me to see how I was doing. She was not even my coach, but that was just the kind of person and leader she was. Laura, you deserve any and every award there is. Congratulations.

  13. Judy Brockmyer April 20, 2013 at 3:42 pm · Reply

    Congtatualtions Laura! You deserved it.

  14. Janet Wells May 3, 2013 at 10:19 am · Reply

    I am so very proud of, and happy, for you! All these honors/recognitions are well deserved and I am so glad you are one of mine.

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