By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — There are times when Chuck Dougherty can talk.
Get him on the phone, or bump into him on the street, and a conversation that might seem to be 10 minutes long is actually close to an hour.
That was not the case Wednesday afternoon, however.
Dougherty, Middle Township High School’s longtime baseball coach, had a hard time expressing his thoughts throughout a stirring ceremony that honored him and the team’s graduating seniors ahead of a non-league game against Camden County Tech.
Dougherty is retiring after 26 seasons as baseball coach at the school (he was also the head softball coach for nine seasons). After the team’s seniors were honored, the school presented Dougherty with a framed jersey and then later unveiled a sign on the back of the press box that displayed “Dougherty Field.” Middle’s home facility was named such last season after Dougherty won his 300th career game.
With dozens of well wishers looking on, including quite a few former players and assistant coaches, Dougherty, who had been fighting away tears for much of the ceremony, simply looked at the crowd and said, “Let’s go play some ball.”
With that, Dougherty went and coached his final game on the field that bears his name.
The Panthers made it a fine home field send-off for their coach by winning, 9-7, behind two hits apiece from Drew Ludman and Lew Rusko and solid pitching from Luke Salvo, who held Camden County Tech to two runs through six innings before tiring a bit in the seventh.
Dougherty was asked what he’ll miss the most about coaching.
“Probably the pre-game,” he said. “Being with my guys and the coaches, right before a game. I always loved that time.”
Asked what it will be like to not coach next spring, he thought for a second and then stated simply, “It’ll be different, that’s for sure.”
Dougherty, affectionately called “Doc” by all who know him, sports a career baseball coaching record of 304-236 over two different stints (1979-1984, 2000-2019). He also went 108-60 during his softball coaching career over two different stints (1971-1972 and 1992-1998). He is believed to be the only coach in Cape-Atlantic League history to win at least 100 games as both a baseball and softball coach. He won many of those games with his older brother, Frank, by his side. Frank retired as his brother’s assistant coach after last season but was in attendance for Wednesday’s game.
Rick Stout, a 1980 graduate of Middle and one of Dougherty’s former players, made the trip from his home in North Carolina to be at the game. Stout is a retired former teacher and school administrator.
“Doc’s the reason I spent 32 years in education,” Stout said. “His influence on me when I was in high school was really special. He took me under his wing and was really a great baseball coach and a great mentor for me. He led me in the direction of wanting to help kids.”
John McCray, another 1980 graduate, was also in attendance.
“I’ve known the Dougherty brothers pretty much my entire life, and everyone in our area knew them from Little League and Base Ruth baseball all the way through high school,” McCray said. “I knew the Dougherty brothers as phenomenal coaches who gave a lot back to their community.
“Back when I played we were one of the first teams around that had batting cages. And they used to take us on baseball trips out of the area. Looking back, I always felt we were a step ahead by having the things we had.”
In addition to his years of service as a coach, Dougherty was also an all-time great player at Middle Township. A 1966 graduate, Dougherty finished his career as Middle’s first 100-hit player, recording 108 for his career at a time when high school baseball teams often played less than 20 games per season.
Sometime after the season ends later this month, Middle will eventually turn to someone else lead the baseball program. But no matter who comes in, no matter how much success may come and no matter how much time passes, there’s no denying that the Dougherty legacy will always linger around the program.