From the Bird’s Nest: McDonald’s Honor Well Deserved
It took me awhile, but I finally remembered the first time I met Dan McDonald.
It took some time because it seems like I've known Dan my entire life.
But it was at a USL football game in 1982. KADN television (now the FOX affiliate in Lafayette) had gotten permission to break into their live programming to show quarterly highlights of Cajuns' football games. It was a precursor to Channel 15's television coverage of Cajuns' sports in the 80's. I had been hired to do those quarterly highlights. My job was to watch the game, let the producers know which plays to keep and, at the end of each quarter, go on live and describe the plays. It was my first dealing with Cajuns' sports.
And, my first dealing with Dan.
I arrived at Cajun Field early and took the elevator to press level. I saw a young fellow putting out food for the media. I also saw him knock over a huge jar of mayonnaise, leaving a big glop of the white stuff on the floor. He angrily threw some napkins across the room. Then he saw me.
"Can I help you?" he said through slightly clenched teeth. I introduced myself and told him why I was there. He told me who he was and showed me where I'd be stationed for the game. I thanked him and nodded in the direction of the food table and the mayo. I asked if I could help. "I got it," he said. 'Preciate it, tho."
That began my working relationship with Dan McDonald. It was also the beginning of a now thirty year friendship.
Tonight Dan McDonald receives the ultimate honor in his chosen profession when he is inducted into the CoSIDA (College Sports Information Directors of America) Hall of Fame. And, those who know him couldn't be more thrilled.
In a recent article, some of the people who worked under Dan are mentioned. But there are oh, so many more. The "McDonald Tree" undoubtedly has much to do with the honor Dan receives tonight. Those who have remained in media relations have done it in different organizations. Some have stayed in the college ranks. But the ATP, WNBA, MLS and many other sports are represented by Dan's limbs as well.
During the eighteen years that I worked with Dan while he was the Media Relations Director at USL, it was pretty obvious he was awfully good at his job. Dan was a stickler for details, something lost at times in today's world of sports information. He was meticulous in making sure the information he distributed was correct, right down to the final details. And, in the days before computers, when game notes for each sport had to be typed out and copied, Dan honed his typing skills that would make any secretary incredibly jealous. He could type over 100 words a minute and rarely made a typing error.
Back in the 80's and into the 90's, Dan served as the main contact for football and men's basketball. His assistant (singular) handled women's basketball and usually baseball. He had either a grad assistant or student assistant to handle softball. Dan was also the main contact for all other spring sports: track and field, golf and tennis. That job meant a lot of 80 hour weeks. Days off were rare.
And, Dan had the perfect demeanor for someone in a demanding business. He had to keep coaches, administrators and the media happy.....not an easy job. But Dan always stayed on an even keel. If he was frustrated, he rarely showed it. And, I really only saw him get angry twice.
It was a basketball road trip to South Alabama in the early '90s. Dan rode to the game with Don Allen and me. The team had gone down the day before, but Dan stayed behind to get one more day's work in, traveling with us the day of the game. Don and I planned to spend the night in Mobile. Dan made arrangements to ride back with the team after the game.
Except the bus left without him.
Dan was downright furious. Mostly because it meant a change in our plans. Obviously we couldn't spend the night in Mobile. We checked out of the hotel and drove back. Dan was seething. And, he let the basketball staff know about it the next day.
The other time, Dan's wrath was (quietly) directed toward one of his peers in the business. That SID had written a press release very uncomplimentary of USL and made sure everyone in the league got a copy. Dan, who was incredibly loyal to the University and his coaches, didn't say a lot about it. But when he did, it was pretty obvious to those who knew him, that he had lost respect for the colleague who wrote the piece. That particular colleague applied for a job at another school. The head SID of that school called Dan. Dan did not give him a recommendation.
During the time we worked together, there were three things constant with Dan. One was his wife, Mary Beth. Originally a student worker in the sports information department, Dan and Mary Beth eventually became an item. Mary Beth, to this day, is super-involved at UL, working game days in the press box during football season and serving as the official scorer for UL basketball. She's the perfect match for Dan. She's also the only woman I know that calls her husband "Boss."
Mary Beth McDonald is obviously the perfect woman.
The other two constants? If someone needed a suggestion for dinner on a road trip, Dan always had one. And, it was always a barbecue place. Always. No, really. Always. And, if we were in a car driving somewhere, Dan always had a Jimmy Buffett cassette, and later, a CD. Dan is the ultimate Parrothead. He knows every lyric to every song Buffett ever recorded and has been known to travel 6-8 hours or more to go and see Buffett in concert.
In his 19 years as Sports Information Director at UL, more than two dozen full-time, graduate and student assistants went on to various jobs in Media Relations. Many of them continue in the profession today.
Dan still might be the head of the department, had it not been for a life-changing night in Hattiesburg, MS.
Without going into a lot of personal details, Dan had gone through a pretty bad divorce which resulted in his being estranged from his only daughter, Kristi. On that night in Hattiesburg after a game against Southern Miss, Dan, as always, went down to the locker room to take care of the post-game press conference and to get quotes. As he exited the locker room, she was waiting. It was the first time he had seen her in more than a decade. No longer a little girl, but a grown woman and a student at USM.
They shared a tearful reunion. Dan asked her to wait while he finished his work. And, father and daughter spent some time catching up. They agreed that there would be no more separation.
But having a relationship with a daughter four hours away just doesn't happen when you have a job that requires your presence nearly seven days a week, not to mention the time on the road.
So Dan, in order to finally be able to be a dad to Kristi, retired.
He went to work for the Daily Advertiser, still a demanding job, but one that at least gave him a little bit
of freedom. He and Mary Beth continued to cultivate their relationship with Kristi. Kristi began spending more and more time in Lafayette. A few years later, Kristi met a man and, at a ceremony in New Orleans, Dan McDonald got to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding.
It's the only wedding I've ever attended, other than my own childrens', where I had a lump in my throat the entire time.
Eventually, Dan left the Advertiser as well and now works with Mary Beth in their company, McD Media. Dan also does free lance writing for many publications. He's now able to spend as much time as he wants with Kristi, her husband Mike Rose, and their three children, Kaitlyn, Claire and Evan. They're living near Dallas now. But Pawpaw is already taking the grandkids to see the mouse in Florida.
Dan and Mary Beth have also been involved for many years in Looziana Basset Rescue. In fact, they've had Bassets as pets for as long as I can remember. Back in March, I read a Facebook post from Mary Beth announcing that they were having to put down their beloved Quincy. That afternoon I got to "Tigue" Moore Field and after setting up, went to see Dan, who is the official scorer for Cajuns Baseball. I expressed my condolences at the loss of Quincy. Dan got a little choked up and admitted it was a tough day. Then he said that, right when he and Mary Beth got back from Baton Rouge where Quincy was euthanized, his phone rang.
"I got a call right when we got back. I've been named to the CoSIDA Hall of Fame," his voice breaking again.
I walked over and hugged him. It certainly was, in my opinion, only a matter of time until it happened. Dan, as always, was humble.
"I don't really know why they picked me.....there are a lot of folks doing it a lot longer."
I told him it wasn't a longevity award. And, that night on the Cajuns broadcast, I recalled as many of those who had learned from Dan as I could remember. Mary Beth was more than happy to supply me with the names that had escaped me.
Dan is getting inducted for his years of service. For his willingness to serve. For embracing a job that is sometimes thankless.
And for that McDonald Sports Information family tree.
That has become an oak.