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‘X’ marks a special place in Alan Donhoff’s heart

May 11, 2020 FieldsColumn

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Alan Donhoff, a 1972 graduate of St. Xavier, has spent the past 42 years at the school in teaching, coaching and administration.

BY MIKE FIELDS (May 11, 2020)

This has always been Alan Donhoff’s favorite time of year in his job as athletic director at St. Xavier.

“In the spring, every kid who plays sports at St. X is either getting ready for games or getting ready for next year,” Donhoff said. “Some days there might be 600 or 700 kids outside after school. It’s so great to see. I just love it.”

This spring is different. The St. X campus is eerily empty. The Covid-19 pandemic has shut down schools and sports and normalcy.

“It’s tough, especially for our seniors,” Donhoff said.

It’s tough for Donhoff, too. He’s retiring at the end of this most unusual, unsettling school year. He’s leaving a place that has been an integral part of his life for most of his life.

In sports lingo, he’s touched all the bases at St. X.

As a student-athlete (Class of 1972), he played basketball and baseball for the Tigers.

For the past 42 years, he has served in a myriad of roles at St. X: math teacher; assistant basketball and baseball coach; head basketball coach; assistant principal; dean of students; dean of studies; and athletic director.

Alan Donhoff

“I didn’t intend to be here for 42 years but I’m thankful every day I had that opportunity,” Donhoff said. “And I’m thankful I was able to enrich my life by having a lot of different experiences working at the same place with a lot of great people.”

During his 25-year tenure as athletic director, St. X won 90 KHSAA team championships and more than 50 individual state titles. 

But Donhoff doesn’t get caught up in those eye-popping numbers.

“What I’m most proud of is that more than 900 kids (out of an enrollment of 1,300) are participating in our athletic programs every year,” he said. “Some are going to win championships; some aren’t. But I’m proud that they all have the opportunity.

“People ask what’s the most important program? I say the most important program is the one each kid is playing.”

When Donhoff was a St. X student 50 years ago, basketball and baseball were most important to him.

“I loved playing high school sports,” he said. “And I had a couple of legendary coaches.”

Donhoff played hoops for Marty Donlon (better known for guiding St. X to a slew of state golf championships). As a 6-foot-3 senior, Donhoff blossomed into a basketball standout.

He was also a talented baseball player for the Tigers, a left-handed first baseman/outfielder/pitcher for Bill Glaser (better known for coaching St. X’s powerhouse football teams).

In Donhoff’s senior year, the Tigers reached the state baseball semifinals before losing to Owensboro.

Alan Donhoff’s solo homer for St. X beat Durrett in the 1972 region baseball semifinals and earned him a headline in the Courier-Journal.

Donhoff went on to play college basketball and baseball at Ohio Northern University. He was inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame in 1993. (St. X teammate Charlie Just also went to ONU and is also in the Hall of Fame.)

After graduating from college, Donhoff came back to Louisville and took a job at Western High School as a math teacher and assistant basketball coach.

After one year there, he returned to St. X as an assistant basketball coach under Donlon. He had no idea it would be Donlon’s final season. Donhoff wound up taking over as head coach in 1979.

“Things just fell into place for me,” he said. “Right place, right time.”

Donhoff coached the Tigers for six seasons, posting a record of 83-61, including their first district title in 11 years in 1981. They also won the district in 1984 and reached the region semifinals before losing to Fern Creek 35-34.

“I loved coaching basketball,” he said. “I really enjoyed it, and had some great players, like John DeCamillis, Jerry Roby, and Larry Just.”

After stepping down as coach in 1985, Donhoff stayed on at St. X and eventually moved into administration, where he’s worked for the last 35 years.

Donhoff also served on the KHSAA’s Board of Control for two terms, including a stint as president. That experience has given him an appreciation for what the KHSAA is currently going through as it tries to navigate this pandemic.

“I truly believe the KHSAA staff and board work very hard for the kids in the state,” he said. “It’s not about power; it’s not about being in control. It’s about trying to do what’s in the best interest of everyone. It’s about trying to keep people safe.

“I do empathize with (KHSAA commissioner) Julian (Tackett) and the whole staff and the Board of Control trying to do the right thing. If your reasons are sound and you’re trying to keep people safe, nobody should fault you for that.”

The coronavirus didn’t influence Donhoff’s decision to retire. He’s been thinking about it for the last few years. The unexpected death last May of Dr. Perry Sangalli, who had been St. X’s president since 2001, had a big impact on Donhoff.

“Honestly, Dr. Sangalli passing away last year had a lot to do with my decision, the finalization of it,” Donhoff said. “Losing a good friend and school leader out of the clear blue sky. It made me think that maybe it was getting to be time.”

The school is giving all of this year’s seniors St. X “2020” baseball caps to commemorate this strangest of springs.

“They sent me one, too,” Donhoff said, “because I’m finally graduating.”

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