Greg Donahue will bring a new hip to his old-school approach this spring when he returns for his 44th season with the Ocean City Youth Athletic Association.
Donahue, 68, whose name is practically synonymous with youth sports in Ocean City, is currently recuperating at his second home in Florida about a month after having a full replacement of his left hip. And to hear him tell it, he fully intends to be back at it very soon. That means umpiring, refereeing and coaching our young athletes – something he has done at a high level for generations.
“Mr. Donahue is basically Mr. Baseball in Ocean City,” said Ken Wisnefski, a longtime admirer. “He is a guy who teaches without any nonsense. He makes them tuck in their shirts and wear their hat the right way. But he is so nice about it. Fathers who were coached by him want their own kids to be coached by him”
Donahue embraces the notion but with a caveat. “You should look like a ballplayer,” he said, “but it’s also important to enjoy the game.”
Greg said he knew he had been involved in youth sports a long time when he attended a recent Ocean City High football game on Thanksgiving and ran into so many former players –many of whom were now fully grown.
“I was hearing things like ‘Remember that game in 1990 you were umpiring and you called me out?’ And I would ask them if the play took place after 7:30 pm because I would have wanted to get home. Everybody is out after 7:30 pm,” he said with a laugh.
He is kidding of course. Greg Donahue’s integrity and respect for the games wouldn’t allow him not to call it as he saw it. He has officiated baseball, soccer and basketball for decades and he did so always the same way: with authority.
“Each sport is unique,” he said. “Whatever sport I was coaching or officiating at the time, I was always looking forward to the next season.”
He credits his wife Cindy and grown daughters Kristen Mazzitelli and Erin Porter for supporting him through all the decades of work and volunteering in youth sports. Kristen and Erin were very good athletes in their own right, playing softball, basketball and running cross country.
Donahue has been a fixture with the OCYAA since 1972, a year after arriving in Ocean City to accept a job as a special education teacher. He coached at the minor and major league level with the OCYAA and at one point umpired virtually every major league game on the schedule. He then became an officer in the league. At the same time, his career in education was on the rise. He became the director of special services, was an assistant principal at the intermediate school and ultimately principal of the primary school. Following his retirement, Donahue became acting and temporary principals at several schools, most recently in Brigantine.
“I always thought (coaching and working with the OCYAA) made me a better school administrator,” he said. “I had the opportunity to get to know people and be accessible to them. I always felt that if someone had a concern and wanted to speak to me at night or on the weekend, I should be available.” He also said being a school administrator helped him working in youth sports. “I could go into the schools and cajole kids into coming out for a sport. Sometimes I would hand out five registration cards before the sixth one was finally filled out. And the kid might bring a few of his friends with him.”
Over the years he said the city has always been supportive of the organizations’ efforts. “That isn’t the case in a lot of towns. Almost everything we ever wanted to do as an organization was supported by the City’s administration, he said. “We have had tremendous cooperation from hundreds of people,” he said.
Donahue has seen many changes in the sports and the participants. The biggest change, he said is today’s youth have a need for a faster pace for sports, especially baseball.
“You have to change how you (practice and play) the game to replicate their lives, which is computers, video games, etc. They demand action. That means using a pitching machine or batting balls out in the field to them so they are constantly moving. If you put action into the game, they will get into it. If you don’t, they are going to be bored and won’t stick with the sport.”
Another example of this, he said, is the T-Ball program, in which teams were reduced from 12 players to six recently. This opened up scoring and gave players more at-bats.
“You have to keep things moving fast and keep the sports action oriented,” he said.
And now with his new hip, Greg Donahue feels he can keep moving himself for at least a few more years.