PW's Donofrio Creates a Tradition of Excellence

Jim Donofrio recently surpassed the 500-win mark, but the PW coach is about a whole lot more than wins and losses. Info included in the article provided courtesy of George Wadlin, Donofrio's former assistant coach and record keeper extraordinaire. Photos provided courtesy of Larry Small. To view photos of the historic win as well as Wednesday's recognition at home, please visit the photo gallery: 

Jim Donofrio remembers it well.

The truth is the Plymouth Whitemarsh coach doesn’t forget a whole lot when it comes to basketball - his undeniable passion, so it’s hardly surprising he remembers his first game at the helm of the Colonials’ varsity in the fall of 1998.

“We won our first game by two points,” Donofrio said. “I think we played William Tennent and we won 53-51 – held on at the end, and that’s when I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this.’

“I was replacing two legendary guys, and that’s some serious pressure. I was replacing two guys that won at a 73 percent clip – ‘What the heck am I going to do with this? Thanks a lot.’”

And what exactly did Donofrio “do with it.” He simply picked up where two legendary coaches – Hank Stofko (583-228) and Al Angelos (170-37) – left off.

Donofrio recently picked up his 500th win, a milestone few coaches attain, and making the accomplishment even more remarkable was the fact he did in 25 years, averaging 20 wins a season.

“That’s what I’m proudest of,” said the PW coach, who coached PW’s junior varsity for seven years prior to taking over the reins of the varsity program. “The competitor in me says, ‘That’s a standard of excellence that is humbling.’ Now I have a responsibility to stay humble, stay humble.”

Donofrio, who teaches English and philosophy at PW, discovered his passion for teaching – and coaching is teaching – after 15 years in the business world.

“I made a mistake in college and doubted myself and didn’t stay with education because at the time – in the early 80s – they said there were no teaching jobs,” Donofrio said. “It took 20 years to get back to where I should have been in the first place.

“It’s an interesting message to people. You have to trust your heart, you have to trust what your heart’s telling you early on, and a lot of us don’t. Everyone wants to give good rational advice, but your heart knows. Luckily, I found my way back. It was always a good experience being in the corporate world 15 years. That first day of coaching a JV team, I just said, ‘Yo, knucklehead, you finally found your way to where you belong.”

Seven years later, he was named only the third coach in program history at Plymouth Whitemarsh. Two years after that, he earned his teaching certificate and has been in the classroom at PW ever since.

“You’ll hear some people say – ‘I tried coaching kids, you’ve got to be crazy,’” Donofrio said. “It’s whatever your approach is or your belief is.

“You hear the cliches – you make a difference with young people, and there’s plenty of times where you get cynical yourself as a teacher and a coach and say, ‘Do I?’ You hear talk today about how the teaching profession is hard, but the bottom line is most human beings are insecure creatures. They just appreciate somebody listening and then motivating them somehow.”

Donofrio has certainly done plenty of motivating. His resume as head coach is remarkable. In 25 years, his teams have won 16 league titles, boasts 10 District One Final Four appearances, advanced to four district title games and won a District 1 title. In 2010, the Colonials captured the PIAA 4A state championship. Donofrio’s resume includes 12 state tournament appearances.

Ronald Moore, a 2006 PW graduate, played pro ball in Europe for eight-plus year and is now coaching the eighth grade team at Colonial Middle School.
“I was fortunate enough to play varsity for coach D for four years, and passionate is the perfect word to describe him as a coach, and it was infectious and rubs off on you,” Moore said. “I credit a lot of the success he/we had was because he pushed his players to play with a certain level of energy.

“Before every game Coach would give us all a stick of Big Red gum along with an envelope that had a piece of paper inside that had a quote on it. These quotes were all by known legends of all sports or even known famous leaders of our present and past times. They simply were used to motivate us for that specific game. Coach is the ultimate motivator which brings the best out of you as a player.  I am not surprised that he was able to reach the 500-win milestone because of these certain qualities.”

“The guy eats, sleeps and breathes basketball,” added Anthony Minor, a 2007 PW graduate. “If you ever drive past PW’s gym, there’s a 95 percent chance that he is there doing some type of studying or just hanging around. The guy just loves basketball. The way he approaches things is very unique for a high school basketball coach.”

Minor went on to play collegiate basketball at Hartford University and is now the assistant basketball coach at Archbishop Ryan.

“One of the great things about him – and I’ve told a lot of people this over the years – is that there’s no one better at getting you prepared for the lifestyle of being a college basketball player,” Minor said. “I got to college, and a lot of guys when I got there – they weren’t used to getting the gear, they weren’t used to watching film, they weren’t used to hard criticism, they weren’t used to a lot of things.

“Coach D – it’s run of the mill. That’s what he prides himself on, that’s how he likes to run his program. When I got to college, the transition from playing under him to playing for my college coach was seamless.”

Lance Wilson, a 2007 PW graduate, was a starting guard for four years during a span that saw the Colonials compile a 107-19 record.

“What sets him apart is his consistency and preparation,” Wilson said. “Looking back on it, I’m 34 now with two kids, a kid on the way and a wife. I’ve had jobs here and there, and I think about how important leadership is.

“In leadership, you have to lead the way in preparation and consistency. I know this family is not going anywhere unless I’m driving the car correctly. I was young back then, so I didn’t fully grasp it because it was so new to me, but the way the program was set up with other resources we had and just the way he ran things – you had no choice but to follow. For me, it was not only basketball, but it was a relationship to him that I developed to where I would follow him anywhere and do anything he said. I would have run through a brick wall.”

More than just a coach

While Donofrio’s achievements on the court are remarkable, that is just one part of his legacy. His impact off the court is perhaps equally or even more impressive. To this day, Wilson has stayed in touch with his former coach – their conversations, according to Wilson, are hours long.

“He's one of one,” Wilson said. “The way he consistently prepares himself and his teams breed wins, but I would argue that his most overlooked and underrated attribute is his ability to relate to others.  I was raised by a terrific woman and mother - but as a kid, I, literally, did not know what my father looked like.  For that reason and knowing that there was a big hole in my life, I gravitated to coaches in the times that they had me.

“Coach D is one of the few that I still maintain regular contact with.  He cared for me, and our relationship has always transcended basketball.  One of my biggest regrets, as one of his players, is not having the courage, humility, and confidence to be more open to him and his staff about what was really on my heart and mind. But I completely trusted him as far as I knew how, which is a testament to his character and the culture of the program.  Today, I'm intentionally transparent and vulnerable and it's hard to imagine how that is the case without Coach D and PW basketball.”

“He’s a very special person behind the scenes,” Minor said. “He not only prepares you for basketball, he prepares you for life as well. He’s taught me lessons outside of basketball that I still hold true to this day. Whether he taught me the hard way or he taught me the easy way, whether he yelled at me or just nicely told me. A lot of things he said to me over the years have still stuck with me as an adult today.”

Minor, Wilson and Ronald Moore were three of the 1,000-point scorers in attendance when Donofrio notched his 500th win – an inspired 78-34 win at Wissahickon on Dec. 22. Other 1,000-point scorers in attendance were Thomas Young, Andrew Mitchell, Taylor O’Brien (girls’ basketball), Chuck Moore and Naheem McLeod.

I think he’s built the program at PW where he makes his alumni feel very special, and it feels almost like a club,” Minor said. “If you played PW basketball, it feels like a club. We come back, we see each other, and it’s all started by him – not the whole PW history, but people my age and the people I know who played PW basketball, it’s pretty much a club that he’s built. It’s very important to us.”

It’s a ‘club’ that shares a loyalty to Donofrio, and the number of former players that showed up for his 500th win speaks for its. The PW coach was honored prior to Wednesday’s home game against Cheltenham on Wednesday.

And ‘’home’ has been a special place for Donofrio and the Colonials. PW won 55 straight home games from 2004-08 and followed that up with a 52-home game winning streak from 2015-18.

Donofrio notched win number 503 on Friday over New Hope-Solebury with many more most assuredly to come.

Coach Jim Donofrio with 1,000-point scorers, from left, Thomas Young and son, Andre Mitchell, Taylor O'Brien, Chuck Moore, Naheem McLeod (behind Chuck Moore), Anthony Minor, Ronald Moore, and Lance Wilson. (Photo courtesy of George Wadlin)