I walked in the office a few weeks back, and standing at the counter was a very special person in my life. It’s hard to even fathom that it’s been over four decades since we first met. He exemplifies the importance of having a great person as a coach when you first begin playing sports.
A heartfelt tip of my Webb Weekly cap to Mr. Don Danneker, one of those people you never forget in your journey through life. Coach Danneker was my first basketball coach. Actually, thinking about it, he was the first coach I had in my life, shortly before my Little League days playing for Mr. Bob English and Mr. Dick Whiteman. I’ve written previously about these two great men, and those special Little League days playing for King’s Motel.
They were special days growing up in Southside, everything connected by a bike ride. As I write my story from my office here on Kane Street in Southside, all my memories of growing up took place only a stone’s throw away.
I was nine years old, and my Mom made sure I attended St. Lawrence Church. Like most boys, I wasn’t too excited about Sunday Mass. Until one day I was asked if I wanted to play basketball in the church league. The league was held on Saturdays in what was then the junior high school — the Rommelt building. The famous bandbox gym was perfect for little folks, although it became a little small during my junior high days at this point.
My basketball experience to this point had taken place in the basement of my house on the top of Kane Street playing on one of those Nerf hoops of the 70s. It actually came on a pole, and I thought it was the greatest present I ever received. I also played outside at the St. Lawrence playground. That was where I first played on a regulation basket. It was a little more difficult than dunking it through that Nerf hoop.
I jumped at the opportunity to play real basketball for St. Lawrence. My only worry was that I hoped that didn’t mean I had to go to church on Saturday also. I was relieved when I found it only required my presence on Sundays. I was so excited for basketball practice to start. I probably drove my parents crazy asking them how many more days till my first practice? I couldn’t wait to get my first basketball uniform.
Finally, that day arrived. That’s when I first met Coach Don Danneker. At the time you never realize how special a person is going to become in your life. But what I did know was that he was super nice. It was cool riding in the back of his pickup truck to practice with my teammates. We practiced either at Trinity Church or the YMCA. I especially liked the YMCA because after practice we got a pack of peanut butter crackers and a soda at the vending machines. This was big stuff for a nine-year-old. Then we loaded back up into the pickup truck, and Coach Danneker would take us home. Yeah, it’s a little different world today. And yes, it was winter during the church league season, but no one cared; he had a cap on the back of his truck.
I remember getting my first sports jersey of any kind from Coach Danneker. A red t-shirt with St. Lawrence on the front and a number 5 on the back. I wore it to bed that night. When the first game rolled around, I just couldn’t wait to get on the court. It was the most important day of my life at that time. I woke up already dressed for the game.
Coach Danneker made basketball about fun, and at that age, that is exactly what it should be. He made sure everybody played, everybody smiled, and everybody laughed. He taught us much more about life than basketball; however, you just don’t figure that out until you’re older.
He turned my liking of basketball into a passion for the game that I still have today. For all you young coaches out there — the greatest gift you can give a young player is the desire to want to play the game. This begins with that fun and falling in love with the sport being played. It has nothing to do with the score or how good someone is at a young age. It has to be about having fun, being on a team, and all those special things that go on in a young person’s life at this point in time. It really has nothing to do with the sport being played.
At the time the ages for the South Williamsport Church League were the same as Little League. The 9 through 12-year-olds all played together. So I played for Coach Danneker for four seasons. I became very close with the Danneker family, which included wife Theresa and daughter Nancy. During the summer of one of those seasons, my sister Jodi and I stayed at their house while my Mother went to work. They adopted and took care of us like we were their own. Sadly, Mrs. Danneker left us a few years back. I wish I would’ve had the chance to say thank you for everything.
I played for many great coaches as my life unfolded, but it all began on Kane Street with Coach Don Danneker, Coaches Bob English and Dick Whiteman. I was so very blessed to have them and their families in my young life. Please understand the power you have to affect young folks’ lives at whatever level you’re coaching.
God Bless America.