From the Sports Editor: Smyrna family mourns softball coach Donnie Shaner

Donnie Shaner was always talking to the Eagles about playing for the name on the front of their jerseys or their slogan, “grass stains and dirt.” And he would usually bring the players pre-practice snacks from Main Street Market, the store that he and his wife of 40 years, Cathy, own. (Delaware State News file photo)

Donnie Shaner was always talking to the Eagles about playing for the name on the front of their jerseys or their slogan, “grass stains and dirt.” And he would usually bring the players pre-practice snacks from Main Street Market, the store that he and his wife of 40 years, Cathy, own. (Delaware State News file photo)

Family always was the biggest thing in Donnie Shaner’s life.

All you had to do was look at his Smyrna High softball coaching staff, which included both his daughter, Nicki, and son Michael, better known as ‘Tater.’

But Shaner’s definition of ‘family’ also included a lot more people than just the ones he was technically related to.

One of his former players described Shaner as “a man who took a countless number of girls under his wing and treated them as if they were his own.”

So it was with both a tear and a smile that Donnie Shaner is being remembered around Smyrna this week after the former coach passed away on Monday at the age of only 58.

A one-time Smyrna wrestler, Shaner also played semi-pro football with the Wilmington Raiders before travelling around the region playing slow-pitch softball.

Aside from his family, though, there were few things Shaner loved more than the Smyrna High softball program, which he coached for nine years.

And his players loved him back.

“He’s had such a powerful impact on not just me but all the Smyrna softball players,” senior Taylor Capella wrote in a social-media post on Monday. “I wish I could see him one more time to thank him for everything. Not only being a coach to me but always being there for me.”

“Some of my favorite softball memories were spent on that field with you,” a former player wrote in a message to Shaner. “You always had my back, you believed in me from the start.”

Shaner was always talking to the Eagles about playing for the name on the front of their jerseys or their slogan, “grass stains and dirt.” And he would usually bring the players pre-practice snacks from Main Street Market, the store that he and his wife of 40 years, Cathy, own.

In 2011 Shaner led Smyrna to the state championship game. The Eagles lost a tough 4-2 decision to Caravel that day.

“I’m really tickled with them,” Shaner said about his players after the game. “When you get to this level, it comes down to whose balls fall in the hole at the right time. That’s all it is.”

Win or lose, though, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who had something bad to say about Shaner. He just had a way of making everyone — even strangers — feel like they were already old friends.

“A day didn’t go by that Donnie didn’t follow in his family tradition of serving others,” said Shaner’s brother, Gene. “He was known by all to be a loving and supportive man who would do anything for you.”

Visitation for Shaner will be held on May 1, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at Faries Funeral Chapel in Smyrna. Funeral services will start at 1 p.m. with burial at Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Warner award for Waite

Like Donnie Shaner, family has always been a big part of Danny Waite’s life, too.

He’s always been proud of the fact that the award for volunteer service at Dover Little League bears the name of his father, Dale Waite.

The elder Waite, who passed away 20 years ago, was the league president for 12 years.

“I grew up in a household where that (volunteering) was the norm,” said Danny.

Maybe it’s only natural then that Danny would follow in his dad’s footsteps. The 45-year-old Dover High grad recently found out that he’s been named the winner of the the Eastern Region Pop Warner Volunteer of the Year Award.

The honor makes Waite a candidate for Pop Warner’s National Volunteer of the Year Award. The winner will be named in late May at Disney World.

Waite has been coaching football with the Dover-CR Raiders for the past five years. He’s led them to a record of 46-6, with one Eastern Regional championship and two trips to the East semifinals.

Waite was the defensive coordinator at Dover High when he stepped down to coach Pop Warner where his son, Nathan, was going to play.

“It’s been so rewarding because it’s been with my son and his friends,” said Waite. “I’ve got a great group of guys that coach with me. It’s kind of like a little family.”

That group of coaches includes Denny White, Kevin Truitt, Mike Townsend, Rob Saunders and Todd Moran, who have been together the past five years. Waite admits it wasn’t easy leaving high school coaching after 17 years.

“It was really a tough decision,” he said. “I had tears in my eyes thinking about leaving the high school. But I didn’t want my kids to go and have the game explained to them by somebody else and miss out on that opportunity of being with them. Now, looking back on it, it’s been a great decision.”

Odds & ends

•The Caesar Rodney High boys’ tennis program, led by coach Jim Harvey, has won its last 100 Henlopen Conference matches.

The Riders’ last league loss came against Dover in 2010.

•The Dave Reynolds Lacrosse Festival recently celebrated its 13th year with two days of games at Wesley College’s Miller Stadium.

The event, which is held in memory of the former CR player and Wesley coach, has raised over $20,000 in scholarship money. It is run by Reynolds’ parents, Jim and Jo Ann.

“It’s a special weekend for us,” Jim was quoted in a story on Wesley’s website, “People understand what it’s about. We think about Dave every day, but we set this up to honor him. This is his legacy.”

•Dave Reynolds’ brother, Mark, is the boys’ lacrosse head coach at St. Mark’s High. That’s a job that Dave once held.

Ron Allen and John Coveleski are back coaching lacrosse together again this spring with the Delaware Tech men’s program.

•Delaware has always been home for Tripp Keister. Certainly the Smyrna resident is going to like coming back here even more with the way his Potomac Nationals have been playing at Wilmington’s Frawley Stadium this year.

After beating the Blue Rocks, 5-2, on Friday, manager Keister and the Nats were 6-0 at Frawley in 2016. The two teams are slated to finish the weekend series today at 1:30 p.m.

•Downstate high school wrestling was well-represented among the award winners at the recent Delaware Wrestling Alliance banquet.

Milford’s Don Parsley (Division II) and Wilmington Charter’s Reese Rigby (Division I) were named the state head coaches of the year; Milford’s Luke Pierson was the Division II Assistant Coach of the Year; Caesar Rodney’s Mike Clavier won the Howard L. Duncan Scholarship; Delmar’s Nathaniel Vincent took home the Buddy Hurlock Scholarship; Smyrna’s Kalen Wilson won the Zane Robinson Memorial Scholarship; while Woodbridge manager Sara Davis won a DWA Special Recognition Award and scholarship.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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