At Regis H.S., Manhattan, one of the several mottos is being a man open to others.
In his 34 years as a teacher and track coach at the school, John Donodeo has led by example in molding young men who are open to others.
On May 22, the Regis community honored Donodeo for his 100th season coaching track at the school. “JD Day” began with Mass, continued with a ceremonial run through Central Park and wrapped up with a reception back at the school.
Born and raised in Astoria, Donodeo grew up in St. Rita’s parish, Long Island City, before running cross-country and track for four years at Mater Christi H.S., Astoria. He went on to earn his undergraduate degree in physical education at Manhattan College, the Bronx, before receiving a master’s degree from Penn State University, State College, Pa.
He spent seven years teaching multiple subjects in elementary schools before settling in as a physical education teacher and now the chairman of the physical education department at Regis, the only tuition-free private high school in the U.S.
Following the winter and spring seasons, Donodeo has now served as the head cross-county, indoor and outdoor track coach for 102 seasons. During that time, the emphasis has been more so on creating long-lasting relationships rather than hoisting championship trophies. He has made it a point to treat all his runners the same – no matter their talent level out on the track.
Through the years, Donodeo’s coaching staff has been instrumental in helping him run the program. He said he is indebted to the support of coaches Chris Febles, a senior college guidance counselor at Regis; David Bonagura, a Latin teacher at Regis who ran under Donodeo as a team captain; and Lee Chua, a Regis math teacher who oversees the team’s strength and conditioning training.
“My coaching staff has been incredible,” he said. “Each one of them is capable of being a head coach. I know I’m going to be able to retire with no reservations in a couple of years because they’re going to take over the program.”
In addition to his coaching staff, Donodeo said the school community has graciously provided him with the means to run the program. He is especially grateful to Regis Athletic Director Kevin Cullen, Principal Dr. Gary Tocchet and Interim President Father James Croghan, S.J.
“The school’s been very good to me, and I just feel that I owe a great debt of gratitude,” said Donodeo, a 2010 inductee into the CHSAA Hall of Fame.
The idea for “JD Day” originated with this year’s Regis senior track runners, who knew they were part of Donodeo’s 100th season during the fall cross-country campaign. James Kennedy, one of the cross-country coaches and an English teacher at Regis, helped those seniors plan a day to honor their coach.
Donodeo received quite the surprise when he found out his cousin, Auxiliary Bishop Ray Chappetto, would be concelebrating the Mass with Father Croghan.
A number of alumni runners that he coached, and even their parents, were sure to be there to show their gratitude to the impact Donodeo had on their formation. Donodeo was also grateful that his son, John, a 2002 Regis graduate; his daughter, Laura, a graduate of St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights; and his wife of 35 years, Myrna, who is in remission from lymphoma, were able to take part in the festivities.
After Mass, Donodeo led the alumni runners on a ceremonial 1.7-mile run through Central Park, where the cross-country team often practices in the fall. The school presented him with a stepping stone along the route to commemorate his 100 seasons.
“It was just a remarkable day and a day I’ll always remember,” he said. “The memories just came flooding back. You could feel the love.”
While he said he was embarrassed to receive such an honor, those in the Regis community know just how dedicated Donodeo has been to not only the track program but also to shaping the lives of young men to become Catholic role models for their peers.
And that is what being a man “open to others” is all about.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.