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Charles ‘Doc’ Higgins reflects on 50-year teaching career at OHIO

Friday, August 27 2021 03:00pm

“I couldn’t ask for anything better. It’s great to be able to live out a dream. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do is be an educator and be a teacher.”

By Megan Bulow

When Charles “Doc” Higgins started working at Ohio University, he never expected that 50 years later he would finish his college teaching career at the same place where it began.

After completing his doctoral degree from the University of North Carolina Greensboro, Higgins was considering several colleges for employment. He wrote a letter to Ohio University and received a response from Dr. James Lavery, director of the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, who invited him for an interview.

As Higgins describes it, “Things just clicked. I enjoyed the people and Ohio University had a great reputation. It wasn’t hard to say yes.”   

He was hired to initiate a recreation studies major and quickly became involved with the sports administration program. The first course he taught was a safety education class. Despite a little bit of anxiety about teaching his first college course, he remembers feeling like he knew what he was talking about.

“Getting to know the students is always an interesting time in any new class you have,” he said. Higgins remembered that first class was a good class.

Throughout the years, he was given the opportunity to move in new directions. The major in recreation he was brought in to create was successful, and there were always new challenges with the sports administration program that made it interesting. Above all, there were two ingredients that made him want to stay.

“The students were just great, and my colleagues were just super. You couldn’t ask for anything more,” he said.

As the program’s success grew, Higgins was occasionally approached with offers from other universities. He never entertained the idea of going elsewhere because he was focused on trying to advance the programs at OHIO. He could see things developing, and there were always new directions to take or things he wanted to add to the program.

“There was never a need to think of going anywhere. There was the stability of the leadership, and I was given the freedom to try new things. There was really no need to leave,” Higgins said.

When Higgins became coordinator of the sports administration program, his goals were to rally the alumni and create a family within the program. He knew that by creating a family-like environment, it wouldn’t be a problem to engage the alumni because they would want to stay in touch and give back to the program.

“One of the things when you became close to the program, you hear about the sports administration family. That’s not only here. That’s everywhere,” Higgins said.

Jim Strode, director of undergraduate programs in the College of Business, chair of the Department of Sports Administration, and the Robert H. Freeman Associate Professor of Sport Management, said Higgins had an enormous impact on the sports administration department and the students.   

“The reason our culture is so strong is because of the family principles that he instilled in our department. These principles started in Athens and have since permeated into all of the wonderful sporting organizations where our alumni work,” Strode said.

One of the ways Higgins created a family in the program was inviting students over to dinner where his wife, Shirley, would serve ham loaf. He and Shirley also started taking students on trips to visit alumni in North Carolina.

This annual excursion, known as the Tobacco Road Trip, gave students the chance to make connections with alumni who work in the sport administration industry. They would stop at Duke University, University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University and several other higher education institutions to attend professional development workshops and meet people in the program who could talk about running a college sports program.

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Doc and Shirley sit with MSA students during one of the Tobacco Road trips.  


He also was responsible for the creation of the Alumni Directory. The famous green book is now a digital resource that is used to connect everyone in the program.  

“We’ve created a family with the sports administration program. The association with them is more than a professor and student,” Higgins said.

Contact with the students and getting to know them better is what he will miss most about teaching. That’s why when Higgins retired from full-time teaching in 1994, he continued to teach one term every year. He enjoyed interacting with the students and being part of their lives.

“It’s been a great career. The alumni and the students are just super. Nowhere are students better than what we have here in the sports admin program,” he said.

For alumnus Mitch Moser, MSA ’90, Doc and Shirley have had a profound impact on him personally and professionally. Moser is the Deputy Director of Athletics, Resource Development and Management, and CFO of Duke University Athletics.

“It is hard to put into words what Doc and Shirley mean to me and to all Sport Ad alums,” Moser said. “Suffice it to say that I wouldn’t be where I am today without Doc as a mentor. He has had an incredible impact on my life and career. He and Shirley are the ‘secret sauce’ of the Ohio University Sport Ad program.”

After retiring, the Higgins moved to Canal Fulton in northeast Ohio to be closer to their oldest daughter and her family. They plan to return to Athens to attend athletic events, especially home football games this fall.

As Higgins reflects on his career, there’s one final message he would share with his former students.

“Enjoy what you are doing. Maybe that’s easy for me to say because of how fortunate I’ve been. I’ve enjoyed my whole career,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better. It’s great to be able to live out a dream. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do is be an educator and be a teacher.”