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01/19/2022 11:00 PM

Donadio Building the Knights as New Head Coach

Clinton resident Sean Donadio is enjoying his debut season as the head coach of the Westbrook girls’ basketball squad.Photo courtesy of Sean Donadio

As a lifelong athlete and now a father of two kids who play sports, Sean Donadio has always seen the benefits of staying active and being part of a team. Over the years, Sean has coached more than 50 teams between soccer, basketball, and baseball.

Now, Sean is beginning the next chapter of his career as he’s in the midst of his first year as head coach of the Westbrook girls’ basketball team. Sean and the Knights are off to a 5-3 start to the winter season.

“As I grew older and realized the positive influence that sports can play in young people’s lives, I wanted to be a part of it through coaching,” Sean says. “It’s turned out to be a great fit.”

When Sean’s children got to high school, he realized how much he missed coaching. In order to continue, Sean knew that he would need a coaching certificate, but with a full-time job, he never had time to take the 40-hour, in-person class. However, that changed during the pandemic, when the classes were offered online.

Once he got his certificate, Sean started coaching the Connecticut Storm AAU basketball team and then found a posting for the head coaching position for the girls’ basketball squad at Westbrook High School. During the interview process, Sean found that his ideals and beliefs lined up with the administration’s.

“It’s about getting better every day, while being a basketball program the community can be proud of,” says Sean, who worked for AT&T for 25 years before retiring and then taking a new full-time position. “Getting better every day doesn’t just apply to basketball, but becoming a better person, and I’m a firm believer that sports can accomplish that. Research backs it up. Sports improve physical and mental health and teach you life skills about communication, collaboration, discipline, and work ethic.”

Sean learned those lessons early in life while growing up in North Branford, where he played basketball and baseball before graduating in 1990. Following graduation, Sean decided to attended Providence College after visiting his sister at the school, resulting in a change from his original plan of playing basketball at Albertus Magnus. While he didn’t continue with basketball in college, Sean and his friends still played every day in an intramural league. Even now, Sean plays twice a week with his friends in Guilford.

While Sean was in college, he and his wife Meegan began dating. They have now been married for 22 years, living in Clinton since 1999. Their daughter Caitlyn is a Morgan girls’ hoops alum who now plays basketball as a freshman at Conn College; and their son, Ryan is a sophomore at Morgan, where he plays basketball and baseball.

As the kids grew up, they started their sports careers with soccer, which Sean coached. With basketball, he coached both their park and rec and travel teams, at times coaching up to four teams in a season. Sean also coached baseball and, in his recent tenure as head coach of the Storm, he was assisted by Caitlyn as they competed throughout the Northeast with their team of 9th-graders

“It gave us a little more bonding team before she went off to college,” Sean says. “And she got to see the other side of it through coaching and what you expect out of a player.”

Now, Sean and Meegan are learning to split their loyalties between Westbrook and Morgan as their niece also plays basketball for the Huskies. Sean works to support his son as much as possible as he coaches his Westbrook team.

“Ryan is happy for me, and I do my best to move things around to see his games and, now with the streaming, it makes it easier, so I can watch his games,” says Sean. “Meegan is very supportive and recognizes I love what I do and it’s a passion for me. I can hear her cheerly loudly at Westbrook games, but with our son and niece at Morgan, she wears both hats.”

Sean has enjoyed getting to know his new team, as well as the Westbrook community. Sean notes that everyone from the team members to the manager, athletic trainer to administration, and families to fans have made the transition easy for him, even with the challenges that COVID presents.

“Every person I’ve interacted with has bought into the mission of getting better every day, and I couldn’t ask for better support from them, the town, the parents, and the school,” Sean says. “I tell them every day we’re playing in the middle of pandemic. You never know when this will end, so don’t take it for granted and enjoy every moment.”

Sean is being assisted by Paula Fitzgerald, the former athletic director and current head coach of Westbrook girls’ tennis. Sean is also working closely with Caitlin Eichler, the dean of students, who’s excited about the experience, positivity, and enthusiasm that Sean brings to the Knights.

“Coach Donadio challenges his team to reach specific goals throughout the season and, once a goal is accomplished, they move on to the next. These goals and positive words of encouragement are displayed on a message board that lights up and is set up at every practice,” says Eichler. “If you walk by the gym during practice, you will see practice running like a well-oiled machine. Players are all actively running through drills; the team manager, Gabby Spash, is keeping time on the scoreboard and recording notes; and both coaches are constantly providing feedback. Westbrook is so fortunate to have him as the head coach of the girls’ basketball team.”

Coming into the season, Sean was looking for Westbrook to continue to show improvement each day. Last year, the Knights finished 1-13. This year, the team’s roster has just 11 athletes, meaning that there is no JV team. Sean has already seen the Knights make a leap from last year as the team is currently 5-3, including a come-from-behind victory over Portland and road wins against Old Saybrook and Old Lyme.

“I have 11 great girls who work really hard, plus a manager who’s always there. We’ve had a good start to the season and they’re learning how to win, compete, work hard, and care about each other,” Sean says. “We can’t be successful if we don’t care about each other or if we don’t have fun. We have bigger things we want to accomplish.”

In addition to seeing the team improve every day, Sean’s biggest goal is to help the program grow. Sean is not only concentrating on creating a positive atmosphere with the high school team, but building a connection with the town’s rec and travel leagues, as well as the middle school program. As a “big believer in collaboration and communication,” Sean has met with the coaches and coordinators for the other programs in town as he looks to “get the excitement up.”

Being a movie and TV show buff who loves to share quotes, Sean notes that the best advice he’s received about building a program came from Courtney Gomez, the head coach of Norwich Free Academy, which was the No. 1 team in the state last year.

“She said, ‘Build it and they will come,’ so I’m trying to build it, do it the right way, and reach out to the places the players come from,” says Sean. “We need more kids. I’m a firm believer that sports are so good for you and such a big outlet. I feel fortunate I’m able to teach young adults about competing, effort, class, and sportsmanship.”