franciscanway - Franciscan University of Steubenville
Belleview Park, Steubenville, Ohio. 1957. A football arcs through the cool morning air, a skinny 12-year-old in pursuit. The boy leaps, pulls in the pass, and sprints for the end zone. “Touchdown!” he yells. His 11-year-old quarterback breaks into a chant. “Dan-ny! Dan-ny! Dan-ny!” Danny grins and tosses the ball to his friend, Rich. “Let’s go again.” And they do—Rich throwing footballs to Dan- � ny, then Danny throwing baseballs to Rich. Two kids tossing a baseball or a football, dreaming dreams of playing in the NFL or the Major Leagues, can be found every day in towns big and small across America. What made the young Danny Abramowicz and Rich Donnelly different was their intensity. “We were freaks,” says Rich. “While all the other kids were messing around, we were serious. We practiced every single day for hours through our whole childhood.” Rich and Danny were born and raised in Steubenville. Danny lived on Sycamore Avenue below Stony Hollow and belonged to St. Peter’s Parish. Rich lived on Langley Avenue by Harding Stadium and attended Holy Name Cathedral. They competed against one another 30 Franciscan Way • Autumn 2008 Inseparable By Lisa Ferguson in Little League Baseball, then basketball. Both volunteered as ball boys for Hank Kuzma’s Baron basketball team and never missed a game at the Steubenville Big Red gymnasium. Danny and Rich’s friendship solidifi ed in high school as they played together on the Catholic Central High School basketball and baseball teams. When it came time for college, Danny, a year ahead of Rich, talked him into going to Xavier University in Cincinnati. There, they both played baseball, and Danny also played football. “We’ve been inseparable since then,” Rich says, even though their athletic careers took them all over the country. Rich Donnelly was drafted fi rst by the New York Yankees out of high school, then by the Washington Senators, and was signed as a left-handed hitting catcher with the Minnesota Twins in 1967, playing four minor league seasons. From there, he went on to 10 years in a managerial career. At 62, Rich is in his 26th season as a Major League coach and has worked with the Texas Rangers, Florida Marlins, and Colorado Rockies among other teams. He now works on the Pittsburgh Pirate Player Development staff. Danny Abramowicz was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 1967, played six seasons as wide receiver, and was named all-pro after the 1969 season. He played for the San Francisco 49ers for two years, then turned to broadcasting as the color analyst for the Saints. His next foray into professional sports came in 1992 when Mike Ditka hired him as special teams coach for the Chicago Bears and then as offensive coordinator for the Saints in 1997. Though highly successful in pro sports, both men drifted away from their childhood faith as they pursued their dreams. Danny always attended Mass, but says he started drinking heavily and stopped “living my faith as a true Catholic.” He got sober with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous and his wife, Claudia, in 1981, and then, through a Life in the Spirit Seminar, he found the Lord in a deeper way. “I was the type of a person who, in everything I did, whether it was sports or even eating ice cream or drinking, I did it all full throttle. When I turned to the Lord, I turned full throttle and it’s never stopped since 1981,” Danny explains.
He currently works full-time in Cath Catholic men’s ministry and is co-host on a new TV show for men title titled Crossing the Goal, which began airing weekly on EWTN this fall. Rich describes himself as a “non-Catholic” “non-Cat for many years and says the example of his wife, Roberta, hel helped him fi nd his way back to the Church. “In baseball, sometimes when you run the bases you get out of the baseline, you get a little wild. I was wway out of my baseline as a person,” he says. “Roberta never said, ‘You should change, you should go back to church.’She church.’ She showed me how to be.” Rich says what finally fi nally “buckled” “buckled”him him was w the death of his 17-yearold daughter, Amy, who died of a brain tumor almost 15 years ago. “God was tapping me on the shoulder, and I wasn’t listening. When Amy passed away, it was like he grabbed me by the shirt and said, ‘Listen, I’m talking to you.’ That did it,” Rich says. In recent years, the life-long friends have returned to their hometown, and where they once met at Belleview Park at 10 o’clock each day, they now meet whenever they can for breakfast at Lancelot’s Restaurant. They have also reconnected with their hometown college—and Baron athletics. Danny, who began speaking at Franciscan University’s Catholic conferences after the spiritual transformation in his life, has been strongly affi liated with the University for the last 20-some years. “I believe with my whole heart that Franciscan University has had the most profound impact on Catholic education in America,” he says, pointing to the hundreds of alumni involved in CCD, high school teaching and administration, and diocesan leadership. When athletic director Chris Ledyard asked him to assist with fund-raising for the Finnegan Fieldhouse expansion, Danny didn’t hesitate. “I believe in the mission of the University, I believe in the mission of what they want to do with NCAA Division III sports, so I wanted to be part of it.” Rich’s involvement with the University is of more recent vintage. After he returned to Steubenville in 2002, Rich, a world-class racquetball player, was looking for two things: a place to play racquetball and a way to reach out to others with the faith. He found both at Franciscan University, where he met an EWTN producer who asked him to tell Amy’s story on the Life on the Rock program— and Chris Ledyard. “I asked the Lord to put me in touch, and he did. Since I did that show, I’ve had all kinds of requests to tell the story around the country,” Rich says. “And I’ve been able to use my connections to help Chris put things together for Division III athletics.” Recently named co-chairs for the Finnegan Fieldhouse expansion component of the University’s capital campaign, Rich and Danny have taken the cause to heart. Rich speaks for both of them when he says, “Franciscan University is my hometown school. It’s a wonderful addition to our city. I like what they’re doing, and I’m proud to do anything I can to help.” “These kids come here and they want to compete, but the facilities are nowhere near what they’re supposed to be. They don’t even have a proper locker room. We have to upgrade the fi eldhouse to let these kids have a chance to succeed,” Danny says. “We’re not building a dynasty here; $3 million could make a heck of a nice program.” � INSEPARABLE Rich Donnelly, right, turns in the lineup card for the Pittsburgh Pirates at a preseason game. Danny Abramowicz on the set of his new Catholic men’s program, Crossing the Goal, which airs weekly on EWTN. Finnegan Fieldhouse Expansion Needs To meet the needs of Franciscan University’s growing student body, as well as give the athletic teams the tools and space they need to compete successfully and spread Franciscan’s vision of integrating sports and Catholic spirituality, the University hopes to expand Finnegan Fieldhouse by: • Creating space for coaches’ offi ces, equipment storage, and team locker rooms; • Expanding the fi tness center from 1,000 square feet to 4,500 square feet; • Building a new entryway accessible to visitors and buses as well as additional parking for guests; • Constructing a Hall of Fame to honor six decades of outstanding Franciscan University athletes. To make a contribution or for more information about Franciscan University’s capital campaign, contact the Advancement Offi ce at 1-800-783-6447 or advancement@ franciscan.edu. Franciscan Way • Autumn 2008 31