When Tony Dobra started his high school softball coaching career in 1981, not many expected what would follow, no one knew how long it would go, and many wouldn't even come close to predicting how successful that career would be.
For what would soon follow was an amazing sight to behold.
Dobra would eventually become a household name when it came to being a prep softball coach for longevity and success. The 34-year coaching veteran has retired after posting a glorious record of 728 wins, 185 losses and a draw, a staggering .796 winning percentage, with 25 league titles and 13 CIF-Los Angeles City Section championships while coaching at San Pedro and Mary Star Of The Sea High School.
Dobra announced his retirement on Tuesday, May 27 after the Pirates stunningly lost to Polytechnic of Sun Valley, 5-4 in the first round of the City Section Division I playoffs on May 22.
"To have that type of success that I was fortunate enough to enjoy at both schools comes from talented student-athletes," Dobra says. "Most of the girls start playing at a young age and continued developing their softball skills all the way up to and through high school. A good number of these players also went on to have successful collegiate careers."
Dobra started his long career at Mary Star, and from 1981-1986, he coached the Stars to four league titles posting a record of 102-27 (.648 win percentage). Some of the great players Dobra was able to coach at his time at Mary Star included the likes of Jackie Carrolle, Patty Gomez, Michelle Ogle, Tiffany Carresi, Christine Bogdanovich-Vidovich, DeAnn Papadakis, Shawn Brunson and Anne Ibarra-Bobich.
Current Mary Star coach Gregg Aguilar offers his thoughts on Dobra's extraordinary impact he had over all of San Pedro.
"34 years of coaching our great sport is quite an accomplishment in itself, but to have the kind of success Tony has had is amazing," Aguilar says. "It takes the perfect balance of good coaching, a high level motivator and a personality that young ladies want to play for. All those qualities are very evident in the way girls grew up dreaming of the chance to play at Pedro and for Coach Dobra."
Dobra, a San Pedro alumni of 1974, would come back to his alma mater to take over the softball program in 1987, and from there, Pirate softball would skyrocket to stardom.
In his 28 years coaching the Pirates, all alongside longtime assistant Allan 'Doc' Moore, San Pedro posted a dazzling record of 626-158-1 overall (a monster .798 winning percentage), winning the Marine League or Southern Pacific Conference championship an astonishing 21 times. Dobra led San Pedro to 17 CIF-Los Angeles City Section Division I finals, 13 of his teams won the championship.
"Tony Dobra is the face of San Pedro softball," Port Of Los Angeles High coach Melissa Bugarin-Espinoza says. " The success of that high school is completely his. Many softball athletes have gone to San Pedro just for the chance to play for him. His impression in the South Bay for softball will have a lasting impact for many more generations. It is sad to see him go but I wish him all the best in his endeavors."
The run of 2000-2009 was Dobra's best as he guided San Pedro to a decade of dominance that would be tough to duplicate by reaching the City Section title game every year, winning nine championships in ten appearances.
"We won 281 games, lost 28 and tied once," Dobra recalls. "That run also included beating Carson five straight times in the championship game and defeating Banning twice. Many of the girls on those teams received softball scholarships to play in college."
Some of those famous names from that marvelous decade includes: Natalie Tam, Wynter Turner, Stephanie Spychaj, Kate Groden, Perelini Koria, Taylor Petty, Korin & Kailee Cuico, Katelyn & Chloe Oro, Holly Stevens, Jessica Robles, Stephanie Tam, Jackie Conlin, Koral Costa, Hannah DeGaetano, Marissa Gonzalez and perhaps his greatest talent of them all, four-time City champion Ashley Esparza.
"Dobra will forever be the face of San Pedro softball," says Esparza, who along with Spychaj currently coaches at Los Angeles Harbor College. "He is more than a just a coach, but a mentor, leader and overall great person. Having played at every possible level, I can truly say that he is one of the best I have ever had coach me. "
One of Dobra's greatest joys coaching at San Pedro was his first championship team of 1992, when the Pirates rallied to defeat Banning, 3-2 in 15 innings.
"That team will always have a special place in my memories," Dobra says. "Petrina Martinez pitched out of a bases loaded, no out situation in extra innings to give us an opportunity to win in the 15th. Victoria Brucker, Melissa Elgin, Michelle Harper and Diane Marshal were some of the talented players that helped us capture that title."
Koria, Turner, Kailee Cuico and Costa were four players Dobra produced that went on to play in the NCAA Women's College World Series, with Cuico and Costa help guiding Oregon to the WCWS in June 2014.
Dobra's greatest game as San Pedro's coach occurred on May 23 & 24, 2000, where the Pirates battled Carson to a stalemate for two days and 20 innings for the City Section title. San Pedro eventually squeaked out a 1-0 victory.
"There are a few things that stand out in that game for me," Dobra says. "Carson had a powerful offensive lineup, and the fact that Natalie Tam shut them out for 20 innings is truly amazing. Despite being stiff, sore and tired after pitching 16 innings the day before, she asked to go back in the circle and finish the game. Also Kate Groden and Caitlin Felando both made great defensive plays during the game."
Dobra's final team in 2014 at San Pedro finished 21-9 overall, placed second in the Marine League and even won the Whittier Tournament championship. His San Pedro teams won the Downey Tournament twice, and the El Segundo Tournament four times.
The legacy Dobra leaves will not be forgotten by past and current players not only as a coach, but as an English teacher.
"Dobra always told us to put education first, and make sure we remember we're 'student-athletes' ", San Pedro soon-to-be senior catcher Alexa Ponce says. "He genuinely cared about us, and about our lives outside of softball. He was our 'Uncle Tony' and he definitely left a mark on my life."
Dobra coached his final game on Wednesday, June 11 along with El Segundo's Keith Cameron in the 22nd annual South Bay Athletic Club Senior Softball All-Star Game at El Segundo's Recreation Park. Fittingly enough, Dobra's Blue Team came out on top with a 12-3 victory.
Dobra would be congratulated by everyone there, throw a ceremonial 'final first pitch' during a break in action, and posed for pictures with some of the greatest names in San Pedro softball lore who came to support him in his final game, including the likes of Petty, Esparza, DeGaetano, Stephanie & Vanessa Spychaj, Kailee Cuico, Katelyn Oro, Gonzalez and Robles. Moore and Dobra's wife Pam were also there for support.
The lone San Pedro player on the Blue Team, Jaclyn Rivera, hit a clutch two-run single in the bottom of the fifth inning that helped turn that game into a rout, ensuring Dobra closed his coaching career the way it always ends up... victorious.