Don has known he wanted to be in athletics his entire life. At the earliest age of remembrance, he was geared up with some sort of ball, ready for action at anytime, blessed to live in an area and an era when pick-up games happened everyday, rain or shine, sleet or snow. Those days in the open fields are some of his best memories. His mother often tells the story that he could have followed in his father’s footsteps and became a surgeon. She recalls a phone call that she received from a guidance counselor at his school. “Don seems fascinated with this whole football thing. His test scores are very high and it is our recommendation that we steer him in another direction.” She didn’t miss a beat. Where some parents would concur and assist help in the matter, she declared that it was Don’s decision. She has always empowered her children (and now grandchildren) with that same voice of choice – often asking them, “What would you like to do?” And so, his love of the game persisted to grow and to flourish. By the time I met Don, he was so fully entrenched that I had only one choice. If I wanted our relationship to survive I too had to jump in. It was an easy transition for me; a sister to 5 brothers (sandwiched right in between) who had me outside for countless hours as well, playing basketball, kickball or hotbox. Somehow, I was always in the middle – never picked first among the boys, but I could hang and my competitive genes grew as well. I’m actually not sure my parents can recall a basketball game that I didn’t foul out of.
Don and I met after a football game, one of his friends was dating one of mine. He was coaching at the time at a division three school in Ohio; his alma matter- Wittenberg. We commuted to see each other, and I, like his parents, never missed a game. Home or away- it was just what we did. Many games were far and in small but beautiful rural towns. Upon arriving, I would watch with pure amazement. His ability to make split second decisions, encourage his players when they were down and to give everything he had everyday. He rarely ever raised his voice. He always said that if they didn’t know it by game time – screaming wouldn’t jog their memories. I have always admired his strengths. His quiet nature is humbling – he is never boastful. He could always take any discussion down to the simplest of terms and navigate it gracefully. His strengths just illuminate from within. I was marrying the best man on this planet, but I was also sharing him with many others; a group of men called the offensive line.
He wanted to win – who doesn’t want to be successful – but he always chose to leave his imprint as his mentors, Dave Maurer, Ron Murphy and Tom O’Brien did with him. The position he coached was always the most fascinating to me …. The Offensive Line. This great massive group of men – 5 who stand to defend and protect on every play. They rarely handle the ball, unless it’s fumbled. They receive no accolades – silent warriors protecting a quarterback. They act as a unit to be perfect – every snap so that the team has a chance for success. They are big but have feet like ballet dancers. They are often the most feared and respected guys on the team. And, within each of them, I see an amazing large heart that matches their physical appearance.
Brick and Mortar Of Our Team
Don has been surrounded by some of the best offensive lineman out there at every level. I’ll brag a bit. He was voted the second best offensive line coach in division one athletics ALL while he was coaching with Parkinson’s. Around him a wall has been built – a wall of men that stand together, impermeable. The courage these men demonstrate now to be associated with Don – in sickness or in health – is almost as strong as the vow I took some 19 years ago. These men call him just to pick his brain, to say hi, to check on our children and share good and sad stories about their families that we’ve come to know. These men are why I truly love football, and when these players became aware that Don is living with Parkinson’s, I have been brought to tears by how strong and supportive they have been. Even when Don accepted a change in position, taking him off of the field, he still felt privileged to be surrounded by such fine athletes. These athletes are, and always have been, the brick and mortar of our lives.