Football teams across Connecticut have long decked themselves in pink accessories to promote breast cancer awareness month in October.
The month took on an extra special meaning for Danbury’s football players when, just days from the start of preseason, head coach Dan Donovan’s wife, Jennifer, was diagnosed with the disease.
“It was tough because I didn’t know what to do,” Donovan said. “I didn’t want to resign because of the kids, but still, my wife needed me. She comes first.”
At Jennifer’s urging, Donovan stayed on to coach the Hatters. “She told me, ‘We’ll work through it,’” Donovan said. “That’s always been her mentality.”
Dan Donovan kept the matter private as long as he could. He only told his team what was happening when the season-opener vs. Hamden was postponed to a Friday because of rain. He had to miss the resumption of the game to be with his wife for chemotherapy treatments at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
“They were great about it,” Donovan said of his team. “They completely understood. And if I’ve ever had to miss a practice for some reason, we’ve worked it out.”
Since many of the players knew or had Jennifer Donovan as a teacher at Broadview Middle School, the Danbury seniors — including team captains Elijah Duffy, Tristan Jakobson, Jason Thach and Akim Moffitt — began a fundraiser.
Working with Danbury football booster club, the Hatters designed pink T-shirts that read “Quitting is not and Option,” based on a shirt Jennifer picked up at a sporting goods store. She’s become fond of wearing it, especially since her diagnosis. “I refer to it often while undergoing chemotherapy,” she wrote in an email.
The Danbury football players quietly sold the custom-made pink shirts to fellow students and Danbury staff throughout October. “I had nothing to do with it,” Dan Donovan said. “I had no idea. They did it all on their own.”
As the Hatters’ final home game of the month drew closer, the team began asking Donovan to make sure his wife attended the game. “That’s when I kind of found out about it,” Donovan said.
With the while crowd at Danbury’s Crotty Stadium wearing the custom T-shirts, Danbury presented Jennifer with a dozen pink roses and donated a $500 check from the T-shirt sales to the American Cancer Society in the name of “a very special member of the DHS family.”
“She broke down in tears, yeah,” Dan Donovan said. “I shed a few myself.”
In an email, Jennifer Donovan described how overwhelmed she was by the gesture.
“I’d never seen so much pink on a football field!” she wrote. “They represent what it means to be a Hatter, and a member of our Danbury community! It meant the world to my husband, our children, and myself.”
Danbury’s seen its share of heartbreak over the last three years. Assistant coach Bo Williams died toward the end of the 2010 season. Former coach Rick Davis died of cancer in December.
Dan Donovan says his wife’s chemotherapy treatments are progressing as well as possible. Donovan said she might have to take leave from her teaching job after the upcoming round. “She gets a little run down,” he said. “She’s fighting through it. She still goes to all our games with our two boys.”
Thanks to the football players, it’s been boost for the family to know there’s plenty of love and hope in Danbury.
“I’m extremely proud of them,” Dan Donovan said. “You know, our record isn’t what we want it to be (3-4), but I believe the character of those kids and that character says we’re where we want to be.
“That my kids felt it was important, while she’s going through tough times, to want my wife to know they have her back… it was an awesome gesture of character. That’s what they’re all about.”