Donny Johnson -- the friendliest person on campus

Johnson Donny
Donny Johnson

 By KIMBERLY WEINBERG

 

Ask people at Pitt-Bradford about Donald “Donny” Johnson, and they will invariably smile. 

On a campus that prides itself on its friendliness, Johnson is the champion.

For 33 years, he has greeted nearly every fellow staff member twice a day as mail carrier. This greeting ritual between Johnson and staff and faculty members goes far beyond a simple hello. Johnson carries tidbits of information from one part of campus to another, and then there is usually a short conversation about 1. Weather, 2. Cats or 3. Sports.

Ah, sports. Anyone who has met Johnson knows he is synonymous with sports. In a speech to his classmates, Lyndon Orinion ’11, called him “a walking ESPN channel.” In addition to knowing the schedules, scores, practice times and travel arrangements for all Pitt-Bradford teams, he knows them for all major Pitt teams, the Pitt band, all Pittsburgh teams, all Bradford Area High School teams and whatever professional, college or scholastic teams staff and faculty members follow. We’re talking dozens, if not hundreds, of teams.

He’s also on top of NCAA conference realignments (let’s face it, a feat unto itself) and is virtually unstumpable on the subject of NCAA mascots. 

Don’t even get started on the NCAA’s annual Division I men’s basketball tournament – March Madness – says Dr. Michael Stuckart, associate professor of anthropology and one half of the “Doc and Donny Show” that travels each spring break with the Panther baseball team’s warm-up trip to Florida or Arizona. The trip coincides with the tournament.

Stuckart usually rooms with Johnson on these trips. “He’s fanatical,” Stuckart says. “He takes over the room with his basketball magazines and bracketology.”

Stuckart and head baseball coach Bret Butler outline Johnson’s morning routine, which includes a 4:15 a.m. wake-up call, followed almost immediately by an online check of the scores and stats of the previous night’s NCAA games. Some of this information goes into Johnson’s closely guarded notebook, some of it highlighted in a scientific system.

“We always tease him about being a bookie,” Butler said.

Game information recorded, it’s time to hit the breakfast buffet.

“We destroy buffets,” Stuckart said. But the biggest eater of them all is not one of the 20-year-old, 200-pound athletes; it’s Johnson, whose record is four Belgian waffles plus all the trimmings.

After dropping the team off, the Doc and Donny Show has business to attend to, hitting

a local grocery or Wal-Mart to buy Gatorade, fruit, protein bars and the like for the team. They

arrange for lunch.

“Donny is always copilot, and he’s great at it. He has a knack for recognizing places we’ve been to and places to turn,” Stuckart said.

Mission accomplished, Johnson returns to the ballpark and takes his place in the dugout, which is significant, Butler said, because a dugout is a team’s “house.” “You can’t just go walking into someone’s dugout, but Donny’s always welcome,” Butler said.

Stuckart said, “He’s a great cheerleader in the dugout. He starts claps. He’s frequently the first to sport a rally cap, and he chides the guys for not being ‘up.’”

Coaching staffs from other teams have come to know Johnson, too, and always ask about him when they talk to Butler. Alumni, too, always ask Butler about “D-train” as they call Johnson.

Stuckart said people all over Florida and Arizona know about Pitt-Bradford through Johnson.

“Wherever we go, he is enthusiastic about who we are and what we do and why we’re there,” he said. “He’s a real ambassador. He’s quick to strike up conversations. He gets to know people wherever we are.”

Johnson has spent time volunteering with the Pitt-Bradford basketball team, too, eginning when Dick Danielson was coach, handling the ball rack.

Johnson’s volunteerism extends far beyond Pitt-Bradford sports. He volunteers with Bradford High booster groups; is a track coach for the Special Olympics; participates annually in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life with the staff team, The Pitt Crew; and, for the past few years, has danced and joked his way across stage as part of Kiwanis Kapers.

A 1969 graduate of Bradford Area High School, Johnson is an active member of the class reunion committee.

“I didn’t even know him in high school because he was so darn quiet and just did his thing,” said Terri Smith Leven ’69-’71, who graduated from high school with Johnson. “But when we started doing our reunions every year, he always wanted to be included in the committee work.”

The committee voted him its president because he is always the driving force behind getting the process started for the next reunion.

This fall Leven and her husband, Bill, began a special project to honor their friend, raising money for the Pitt-Bradford sports endowment, which has been named in Johnson’s honor.

“This fund is a great symbolic representation of his support for athletics,” Stuckart said. And it’s a chance for people to show Johnson how much they appreciate him. When Johnson comes to deliver the mail, “It is a good part of the day for a lot of people. There’s nothing negative about him at all.”

Butler agreed. “There’s not a negative emotion in his person. I’m a richer man for knowing him, and we’re a richer team for having him be part of it.”

 

For more information on donating to the Donny Johnson Athletics Endowment Fund, contact Jill Ballard, executive director of institutional advancement, at (814)362-5091 or jballard@pitt.edu.