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Northwestern coaching legend remembered as a pioneer in women's athletics

Jan. 11—Northwestern High School coaching legend Nancy Dutton, a hall of fame coach in two sports in a trail-blazing career that stretched from the 1970s to 2000, died Wednesday at 75, her family announced.

Dutton won more than 1,000 games as a basketball, softball and volleyball coach. In all three sports, she guided the Warriors to state final four appearances, and in volleyball, she won four state championships in a five-year span. The Northwestern softball field is named after Dutton, a 1966 graduate of the school, and the road that leads into campus is named Nancy Dutton Drive.

"Probably her greatest legacy is she was such a pioneer and advocate for women's athletics early on," said recently-retired Northwestern Athletic Director Brad Beals. "The people who didn't know Nancy well thought that she was this really demanding coach, but I've never been around a coach who created better relationships with their student-athletes than Nancy did."

Dutton was a standout field hockey player at Bowling Green State University before getting into coaching at her alma mater, her son Benjamin Dutton said. She also taught physical education and health.

"She was a very driven woman," Benjamin said. "I remember she had all these filing cabinets of all her plays and all her scouting reports and anything and everything about anything in the (Central Buckeye Conference). As soon as volleyball ended, softball started after about a week respite, and then she'd dive into that."

Dutton coached basketball, too, early in her career and led Northwestern to the final four in 1977. It lost 51-40 to Pemberville Eastwood in the Class AA semifinals, finishing 16-2. Benjamin said the school forced her to give up one of her sports because she was dominating the coaching field, so she stuck to softball and volleyball.

In an era when girls sports were fighting for recognition, Dutton would buy uniforms and equipment for her teams, Benjamin said. In a 1990 News-Sun story, Dutton told the News-Sun how her anger about the lack of support for girls sports motivated her.

"You just get tired of having to battle so hard for every practice minute in the gym," she said.

Dutton made the most of every minute on the volleyball court. She ranks second in Clark County history in coaching victories with 476, trailing only Southern's Kathy Mercer, who passed the 500-win mark in 2021. Dutton was inducted into the Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1992.

Dutton coached Northwestern to volleyball state championships in 1983, 1984, 1986 and 1987. They are the only volleyball state crowns won in Clark County history. The last championship in 1987 capped a 29-0 season.

"I feel like it's something that can never be taken away from the girls or myself," Dutton told the News-Sun in 2007. "It's something that'll always be there. Not that you have to hit people over the head with it all the time, but it was a highlight of their lives and something I'll never forget."

Northwestern reached the state championship game in 1999, Dutton's final season as volleyball coach. It lost to 2-0 to Huron in her final match.

"Sometimes you just know when you have to exit," Dutton said then, explaining her retirement. "I just think it's time for a change."

In softball, Dutton was 513-80 in 29 seasons. She trails only Southeastern's Randy "Tojo" Delaney. Her teams reached the state final four seven times, won seven district titles and 17 conference championships. She was inducted into the Ohio High School Fastpitch Softball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2000, the same year she retired as a coach.

"This is like the climax of all awards — the cream of the crop, the top," Dutton said at that hall of fame ceremony in 2000. "This kind of makes up for what I lacked as a player — for the recognition and opportunity that weren't there when I played. It's nice to be rewarded as a coach and make up for that time long ago when women athletes played for just pure love of the game."

Dutton is survived by her husband Cass, her daughter Peggy Dutton-Rodgers, her son Benjamin, two grandchildren and one great grandchild.

On Facebook, one of Dutton's former athletes, Connie Kaffenbarger Koehler, paid tribute to Dutton.

"I will never forget her passion for girls sports at Northwestern," Koehler wrote. "She was a trail blazer and instrumental in developing one of the best girls' athletic departments in Clark County. In the early 70′s, when girls sports were starting to develop into a competitive arena with other high schools, she fought tooth and nail to force our athletic department to recognize equal practice times. She taught us how to stand our grounds ( or I should say sit our butts in the middle of the gym and not move) when Mr. Boate showed up with his basketball players and tried to take over our gym time. It was definitely a sight to see and hear, but we prevailed! She loved us and we loved her! Rest in Peace, my friend."