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Steve Christilaw: Passing of Jim Dorr a huge loss

East Valley volleyball coach Jim Dorr’s varsity squad listens intently as he instucts them about accurate serving in 2009. (File)
East Valley volleyball coach Jim Dorr’s varsity squad listens intently as he instucts them about accurate serving in 2009. (File)

Our community lost another bright light last week when longtime East Valley volleyball coach and teacher Jim Dorr died, at the too-young age of 54, after a two-year struggle with the effects of a brain aneurysm.

Like so many coaches and teachers, he was an experienced guide, taking students and athletes on an inner journey to find their passion.

It’s been said that nothing great in the world happens without passion, but Dorr didn’t find his right away.

Football fans remember Jim Dorr as one of the most prolific passers in the history of the Greater Spokane League, despite playing just one season of high school football.

Dorr turned out only for his senior season, a memorable season indeed. Coach Bill Diedrick’s 1977 Rogers team was the first true passing offense in the history of the GSL, and Dorr put the shoot in the coach’s “run and shoot” game plan, throwing for 1,898 yards – the league record at the time and still the eighth-best passing season in league history.

Diedrick, who retired from coaching after a stint at University High, was deeply saddened by the loss of Dorr.

“As much of a great athlete as he was, he was a great person,” Diedrick told The Spokesman-Review. “You’d be very proud to have him as your son. It’s hard to lose someone like him.”

Dorr played three sports at Whitworth, but fell in love with a fourth: volleyball.

As a player, he was one of the best in the area – teaming with his brother, John, to win numerous two-man grass volleyball tournaments over the years.

As a volleyball coach, Jim Dorr had high standards.

“I start by asking for perfection and then I look for improvement from there,” he told me on several occasions. He’d wear a grin when he’d say it, but he wasn’t joking at all.

You see, Dorr had a deep passion for the game of volleyball, and he both coached and played the game at the same level. When your love of the game burns at that level, you can’t just play the game – you have to play the game the RIGHT way.

It’s about respecting the integrity of the game you love.

He wasn’t always an easy coach to play for, and he was the first to admit that. But he was a great coach to play for if you shared his passion for the game.

What perfectly revealed the character of Jim Dorr the coach was the addition of his daughter, Alyssa, to the East Valley varsity.

Alyssa, now a senior setter for Northwest Christian University, grew up around East Valley volleyball. Before she was old enough to play for her father, she was already scouting opponents for him, learning how to break down offenses and analyze players like a professional. She always traveled with the team and frequently kept stats during games.

But despite growing up learning how to play volleyball the Dorr way, despite being a setter for her club team, Alyssa wasn’t handed the keys to the Knights’ offense when she arrived in the gym wearing EV practice togs for the first time.

In fact, it wasn’t until she was a senior that she got the job of running the team offense. There were no shortcuts for the coach’s daughter.

Alyssa was a second-team All GSL player as a junior as a defensive specialist and was a first-team All-Great Northern League setter as a senior.

But what concerned the coach before that senior season wasn’t whether Alyssa could handle the position. No, what mattered to Dorr was what having her play that position for him would do to his relationship with his daughter.

What made the multilayered relationship work was the simple fact that was, in every way, Jim Dorr’s daughter. They approached the game, and each other, with a deep respect.

When they were on the court, Jim was in every way the coach. When they were off the court, he was dad.

On the court, both father and daughter shared a deep passion for the game; at home they shared the kind of relationship that fathers with daughters the world over hope for.

Our collective hearts break at such a loss to the family Jim leaves behind – his wife of 32 years, Patti, and the couple’s two grown children, Alyssa and James.

Steve Christilaw is a longtime freelance sportswriter and reporter. He can be reached at