Pictured above is former Dallas Cowboy Doug Donley with wife Dina and sons, Jake and Drew.
by Alicia Wanek
“From the first moment I can remember, I constantly had a ball in my hand,” recalls Doug Donley. “I even slept with a football!” For this former Dallas Cowboy, sports have played a role in almost every part of his life, professionally and personally, but it’s not about the wins and losses for him. It’s about the lessons learned from sports along the way. That’s why Doug is putting his name behind the Women’s Auxiliary to Children’s Medical Center Plano in the Alliance Data Red Balloon Run & Ride and their support of the new Children’s Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine.
Born and raised in Cambridge, Ohio, a small town of 15,000 people with one high school, Doug remembers just loving sports. He and the local kids would play outside, and as he got older he started playing basketball, baseball, football, and running track on organized and school teams. After surgery in 10th grade that limited movement of his right shoulder, his throwing arm for baseball and basketball wasn’t what it had been. He could, however, continue as a running back on the football team. He was recruited by several colleges but couldn’t turn down the opportunity to play at his beloved The Ohio State University. Little did they know he couldn’t even put both arms up to make the “touchdown” signal when they moved him to wide receiver, so the fact that he went on to play 5 years in the NFL is a testament to his own determination. “I was lucky to just get the four years in college with my shoulder, much less another five professionally,” he says.
His passion for sports, especially football, carries on now with his two sons. It’s quite a family affair! His wife Dina, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, is now cheering on the boys’ teams year-round. And, with the exception of the one season Jake played soccer, Doug has coached every football, basketball, and baseball team that the boys, now ages 12 and 14, have participated in since before they were even in school. Through these teams, countless young men have benefited from Doug’s own professional experience, but more important to him is that they learned what it means to be part of a team. Doug says, “Playing sports demands that you have discipline. It teaches character and leadership. It prepares you for your future. I look back now and realize how important sports were in making me who I am today.”
As a coach, he’s taken the responsibility of his players’ safety very seriously. “Your body has to be conditioned and strong, but I don’t incorporate any drill that jeopardizes safety.” He knows the value of concussion awareness and is part of the NFL-funded study, which is examining data on NFL players to see the effects of concussions on memory and cognition. He himself has undergone a 3-day intensive protocol of tests and MRI’s. Besides his focus on concussion prevention, he considers neck injuries to be a major concern, as those could be life-altering. He constantly reinforces the importance of proper technique, especially when tackling. Based on his own experiences with his shoulder, he also worries about overuse injuries in young athletes and kids trying to do things they’re not ready for physically. Another big component he’s recognized over the years is that it’s important for kids to want to play, that if they don’t really want to be there, they are more prone to getting hurt. He’s seen parents pushing their kids to play a particular sport but has told his own boys, “Don’t play sports because of me. I’ll be there supporting you no matter whether you play in the band, on the stage, or on the field.”
His concern for his players is why he’s such a big proponent of the new Children’s Health Specialty Center II being constructed on Preston Road in north Plano. The new facility, which will house the Children’s Health Andrews Institute, will feature four operating rooms, an imaging center, physical therapy space, and orthopedic and other pediatric clinics. It also will include indoor and outdoor athletic performance facilities, including a half-size football field and running track, as well as a connected, five-level parking structure. They will treat all aspects of orthopedics with special programs for concussions, congenital and hereditary disorders, dance medicine, pediatric trauma, and sports medicine. “As a former professional player, a youth sports coach, and the father of athletes, I know how great it is to have this amazing facility in our own community,” Doug says.
Doug says the goal of the NFL study he participated in was to examine “How have you been affected by football?” He may have been referring to the physical side of the game, but talking to him you realize he’s been affected by it in so many other ways. Most of the kids he’s coached will probably not go on to play sports in college or professionally, and they won’t remember all the drills or plays he’s taught them, but what they will remember are the lessons he’s passed on about life.
Join Doug in supporting the Children’s Health Andrews Institute at childrens.com/runandride on the Women’s Auxiliary – Legacy Chapter team page.