The first headmaster of St. John’s School, Alan Lake Chidsey, made some big hires, but only one of his troops had made it to the college world series. To top that off, this guy had been part of a professional sports franchise. To this day, only one other faculty member has had similar credentials, playing in MLB and the CWS. Charles Williams was hired by John Allman in 2007, nearly 50 years after Chidsey’s man, Doug Osburn, set foot on campus.
Fresh from the 1954 World Series with the Houston Cougars, Osburn did double-duty, serving as St. John’s coach in fall and winter and playing professional baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies organization during the spring. Doug jumped into the football coaching ranks right away along with head coach and athletic director, Phil Richards. Richards, the girls’ basketball coach at the time, ended up leaving St. John’s a year later to become a headmaster. Osburn filled the gap and got his first chance to be a head varsity coach in his second year.
“After Phil left, Mr. Chidsey called me in to his office and appointed me A.D. and girls’ basketball coach. I had never been a head coach before,” said Doug. “I stood outside the old gym for about a half hour staring into the seam of the door. I was scared to death. I had been a professional baseball player and had gone to the college world series, but I just didn’t know what to do.”
Eighteen years later, Osburn walked out of that gym with 16 SPC titles to his name—all in girls’ 6 v 6 basketball.
“We had so much fun winning,” said Coach Osburn. “Everyone was gunning for us. We were 10 pt. favorites when we walked into the gym. I never coached 5 v 5 girls’ basketball. It was 6 v 6 (3 on 3 at each end). We started with a zone defense and then added some more complicated schemes. Whatever the formation and game plan, we never got tired of winning.”
“I’m shocked to go back and figure out that Coach Osburn only coached me for one season,” said Deborah Detering (’59). “I recall vividly that when he drew up a plan we would bust our necks to do it. It wasn’t about the x’s and o’s. We all had a crush on the young man.”
“Osburn meant the world to many of us,” said Binky Peters Strom (’59).
“He was special,” added Marcia Heyne Modesett (’59).
“Our nickname for Doug was DEO–the initials of his full name and a not so subtle reference to deity, said Marina Ballantyne Walne (’70). “We revered him and his ability to turn any ragtag group of girls into a cohesive championship team.”
Another of Osburn’s major contributions to St. John’s was hiring Skip Lee away from Kinkaid in 1958. Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Skip and Doug were inseparable and helped St. John’s become a force to be reckoned with on the gridiron, winning six SPC titles together. Doug coached the defense and Skip coached the offense.
While Doug found new ways of winning titles in girls’ basketball at St. John’s, his passion for baseball never waned. In 1962 Rice came calling to head up their baseball team. Osburn would not give up his beloved girls’ basketball team, nor his defensive unit in football, but he agreed to spend his springs on the diamond with the Owls. In 1974 he went full-time with Rice, becoming their first Women’s Athletic Director, while also serving as Club Sports Director, Facilities Coordinator, and head coach of baseball and women’s volleyball and basketball.
Doug left a lasting impression on those that he coached. Titles aside, what many former football players recall is Osburn’s tell-tale tactic to keep his troops on edge: he would sneak up and give them the “Pincho,” or worse, the “Pincho Grande.”
“You had to beware, but he was so stealthy he would be pinching you before you knew it,” said Tommy Smith (’75), a.k.a. “Booger Red,” as Osburn called him.
“You never knew he was coming until it was too late,” said Rand Holstead (’86). If you have ever slammed your fingers in a car door that locked, you would know the feeling.”
In 1966 Doug became a founding member and eventual Hall of Fame inductee in the Karl Young Baseball league, a league which gave college-level baseball players an opportunity to sharpen their game in a competitive environment. Phil “Scrap Iron” Garner, Doug Drabek, and Craig Reynolds among others, cut their teeth on the diamonds at Karl Young.
In the summer of 1980, while driving out to Brenham on a Saturday to scout players, Doug decided to swing by the St. John’s gym and check in on Nance Osburn, his beloved wife and long time math teacher at 2401 Claremont Lane. Tom Reed, the school’s third headmaster, was in the gym parking lot and asked him what it would take to for Doug to come back. “An arm and a leg,” said Doug. “I thought he was kidding.”
Answering the call of the storied cloisters one more time, Doug took Reed up on his offer on Monday. He went back to coaching the defense with Skip on the varsity football team and finally got a taste of 5 on 5 basketball as the boys’ head coach. Always finding a way to put baseball in his life, along with Don Lewis, he resurrected the baseball program which he started in his first go-around at St. John’s.
Twenty years later Coach Osburn left St. John’s for the second time. Both times he had answered the call of duty: Not Without Honor. He has left a legacy of lasting impressions. The St. John’s athletic department bears his mark, and will always be: Not Without Osburn.
Sam Chambers- Athletic News