When Dwayne Donnell entered into the girls basketball coaching ranks in the mid 1990s, it wasn’t for the money.
Nor was it ever for the accomplishments that came with leading his girls basketball teams to great heights, including a state title with Dunbar in 2012.
But it wasn’t until the death of Estero High cross country and track and field coach Jeff Sommer in May of 2015 when the significance of coaching truly began to hit Donnell in the chest.
Sommer had told Donnell before he died that coaching was about the impact he created for his athletes. And he encouraged Donnell to pursue larger motivations with his team and to develop program philosophies that would last long after any season.
Donnell took those words to heart.
“He would send emails to encourage me,” Donnell said. “We always talked about branding yourself. And I just thought, there’s so much more I could learn from him. I’m just so glad I was able to meet him.”
On Tuesday at the sixth annual News-Press All-Area stars banquet at Germain Arena, Donnell took home the second installment of the Jeff Sommer Coach of the Year Award, presented to the coach in Southwest Florida who saw success both on and off the court.
Donnell, a 23-year veteran coach who had previously coached at Cape Coral and Mariner before taking the Dunbar job in 2000, accepted a $500 check, awarded to the Dunbar girls basketball program, on behalf of Mother Earth Natural Foods.
The award also capped off an evening that saw 72 athletes receive recognition for their outstanding accomplishments this season.
Donnell’s Lady Tigers finished with a 26-5 record and reached the Class 4A semifinals, the program’s seventh straight trip to the state championship series.
Off the court, Donnell’s acronym WITOO — “Winning is the only option” — became a philosophy that drove the team toward success both on the court and off, helping multiple players earn scholarships at the next level.
On the stage Tuesday, Donnell spoke about his relationship with Sommer, and how the late coach inspired him to do better, and be better as a coach, at all times.
“Anything that I’ve accomplished to this point, to be mentored by Jeff and to know people think my career compares to Jeff, if it’s even close to what Jeff has done, that’s special,” he said. “It’s wonderful. It’s a wonderful recognition. This means a lot.”
Donnell was one of three nominees for the award.
Cape Coral swimming coach Dianne Kimble and LaBelle cross country coach Jef Frost were also recognized for leading athletes beyond accomplishments on the field.
“Just to have my name mentioned in the same sentence as Jeff Sommer, or even in consideration for the Jeff Sommer award is just phenomenal,” Kimble said. “He was a legend and was such a mentor in this area. It was an honor to just be selected to be a finalist on the award. I’m so happy, it’s not even funny.”
Kimble said her mission as a coach is to continually encourage her athletes beyond results in the pool.
“Every athlete fails sometimes,” she said, “and you fall short every once in a while. But if you have 50 other people on the team saying, ‘It’s OK, we have your back, let’s do this again tomorrow. We got this.’ It lends itself to success. They find that success with each other.”
Kimble says her coaching has always been about inspiring her athletes to believe in themselves.
“I try to instill in them that they can do anything they put their mind to,” she said. “And that if they give 110-percent of themselves, they’ll surprise themselves with how far they can go. It really takes that moment of dedication. I’m going to do this, commitment, buy in, 110 percent. And follow through.”