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Beyond Football

Little Hoya’s Football Coach and Athletic Director Offers Encouragement and Support for His Players and For All of Us

This is a story about football. But it’s also about resiliency, determination, and, of course, a pandemic. Everyone hopes to survive 2020 ready for whatever version of “normal” emerges at after today’s uncertainty. Most people will need help achieving that readiness. Maybe, just maybe, what we all need is a football coach.

“Attitude dictates everything,” said Danny Paro, Athletic Director and Head Varsity Football Coach at Georgetown Preparatory School, or Georgetown Prep (or just “Prep”), as the all-boys Catholic Jesuit school (founded in 1789) is known. “You gotta have a positive attitude to deal with this adversity, and this adversity is real. With young minds, it’s really important. That’s what coaches are hired to do. That’s why you have coaches,” he added. His uplifting message seems tailor-made for people everywhere, well beyond a school football program, and in fact, since Coach Paro is also Prep’s Athletic Director, his focus is broad. 

“I care deeply about all sports,” he said. You have to make sure the entire community is given the same opportunity (to play and compete). We feel awful for the spring athletes from last year. It was brutal. Now it’s even harder getting these men (fall athletes) restarted this year than what we had to deal with last spring. We’ve been giving them a message of ‘hope, hope, hope’ but they haven’t seen the payoff. They will see it one day and it will be awesome.”

Coach Paro tells his football team to expect the unexpected but in a recent virtual meeting, he told the players, “I didn’t expect you to expect all this unexpected.” With a sigh, he added, “There have been a lot of obstacles thrown their way. Every educator I talk to says the biggest thing they deal with is the fact that they are not with students or players that they teach and coach. We are (normally) around people all the time.  I recently ran into some young men I hadn’t seen in months. It was awesome.  It brings a smile to everyone’s face.  It makes your day. That’s what we are all missing.” Coach Paro has not held a normal practice since their final game last November. “The kids have so much energy and spirit that they have been holding back and they want to let it go,” he said.

Like other schools in the Interstate Athletic Conference, Prep is following guidelines. In a written statement, the IAC explained that there will be no league-sanctioned athletic competition this fall. Instead, the IAC document continued, they will “pursue creative opportunities for safe team practices and training and informal competition between member schools when feasible.” With a plan to resume league competition no earlier than January 2021, the league said it would “develop plans for three abbreviated seasons during the remainder of the school year, beginning with traditional winter sports, to be followed by fall sports and then spring sports.”

Prep was planning for the school to open Sept. 8, in a hybrid model with some students on campus and some attending virtually. This year’s enrollment includes students from 14 states and 21 countries. The school continues to monitor the public-health situation and, new guidelines in July indicated that in-person classes wouldn’t begin till October. In September, Coach Paro said, “We’re hoping to get some field time this month, but we live day to day. The rules are so meticulous. We have to take time to discipline all athletes and with larger numbers of kids playing football, it’s particularly hard to instill all this discipline. What we try to do with the minds of these young men; we tell them we don’t control any of that. When the green light is given, we will make the most of it.”

In preparation for his next Zoom meeting with players, Coach Paro said he planned to update the kids on expectations. “You try to address them emotionally,” he said. “I have to tell them that when they get that green light, you gotta step up.”

Coach Paro knows a lot about stepping up.  A 1979 alum of Prep, he was a Little Hoya football player himself.  He also played football for Dennison University, where he is now in that school’s Hall of Fame. After Denison, he signed with the Detroit Lions in 1983 and signed a free-agent contract later that year with the Washington Football Team, where he spent training camp. Later, he served as graduate assistant and assistant football coach at Ohio University, where he earned a masters of athletic administration. He was Prep's Dean of Students from 1996-1998 and has served as Prep's Athletic Director since 1999. Various media outlets and football organizations have named him Coach of the Year.

This past summer, when campus was shut down, Coach Paro and his staff found ways to keep players conditioned. “We gave them areas we wanted them to concentrate on,” he said. They used an online workout program set up by Eamon O’Liddy, the school’s strength and conditioning coach. “It was really hard on the kids,” Coach said. “They didn’t have someone pushing them all the time. When we finally get them back, we’ll focus on conditioning them physically and mentally but I’ve also focused on how to get kids laughing. That’s what they miss most: laughing together. As coaches, what we enjoy most is being at practice with the kids.  That is not happening and that has an effect. When we get them back, they’ll be excited to have us push them and we’ll be trying to liven them up again.”

In normal years, Coach relies on his seniors to help set the tone. “I always tell the team that we go as the seniors go. Our senior class and our senior captains have to be the best leaders. They gotta show resilience and the ability to turn something on really quickly. The seniors have been great. They have been keeping in touch.”

Typically, mid-August is time for football camp, where the team lives together for a week. This year, Coach and his teamed really missed it. “It’s the most important week of the season,” he said as he explained that it’s not so much about missing the practices as it is missing sharing stories and other bonding exercises.  

This year, Coach Paro’s hopes are different. “If everything goes well and the situation cleans up a bit and everyone seems to be focused and we are back in school, it could be one of the wildest rides ever, and I mean that in a positive way. It’s not about who you can beat. It’s just about getting athletes on the field, the court and in the pool. If we can do that, we are all champions.”

November normally brings the season to a close with the much-anticipated annual rival match-up between the Little Hoyas and the Bullis Bulldogs. After being down late in the 3rd quarter at last year’s game, Prep pulled off a 22-16 win. Coach Paro recalled the intensity of the game. “These are really hard-nosed competitive games and both schools have great respect for each other,” he said. “In the last eight years (of match-ups) each school has won four outstanding games.”