As I get ready to start my camps this summer, I am thinking of my good friend Danny Daniel and how very much I miss him.
What a man he was... He was the type of person that you just wanted to always be with. He was never pretentious or shrewd - just a humble servant to others and one of the best coaches and teachers that I have ever been around.
Every day that he worked with me, even without saying a word, he sparked a new life and focus into myself and the staff. He reminded us why we taught children. Why it was one of the most honorable professions.
I met Danny in Lavonia Georgia in the early ‘90s. He was the local high school as a football coach and also helped with the tennis team. He and a lady named Sandy Adams had a great thing going there. On a Saturday in that rural Georgia town, I gave a clinic to 50 tennis-hungry kids.
After that meeting, Danny started helping me with my summer camps. As soon as his son Clark was old enough to hold a racket, he would bring Clark up for a few weeks and have a father-son experience in tennis. Danny would help me with managing and teaching the kids while his son participated in the camp. It was touching to see the bonding experience between Danny and Clark. They shared everything: the nights in the dorm room, the meals in the cafeteria, the walks to and from the courts, and many many laughs. They shared one of the best father-son relationships that I could imagine.
Danny had this very crooked and very ugly pinky finger that had not been properly set when it was broken. At camp, it was fun to show the kids this finger and tell them that, as a child, Danny had not used the proper volley or service grip. We would later laugh as we would talk about the wonderful innocence of children as many of them would, at first, believe such a yarn. Those moments, over a meal or a bowl of popcorn with Danny, were so much fun. He loved popcorn almost as much as I did.
Danny soon became the Camp Manager, and he would always make sure that everyone was where they had to be when they had to be there. He was not only very organized, he also knew how to make the camp experience wonderful for each and every child. Very few teachers can balance of getting many complex things done while keeping everyone at ease and having fun.
Danny mostly reminded me of the wonderful experience of teaching and coaching young people. Simply, he just loved teaching and he loved to coach, and he loved tennis as much as anyone that I have ever met. Serving each and every child was his only agenda. Such service became contagious. He taught us by example.
When Danny died earlier this summer, I called several of the coaches and instructors that had worked with us at the camp over the years. I remember a couple of them start to cry when I told them about Danny. As I write this now, I am starting to tear up as well.
What a man… What a man's man... Not for his toughness, as he was very tough as a coach and as a tireless worker. But more so, he was a mans' man because he was a person that calmed your heart and made you just know that deep-down, things were OK.
There was a bigger, more important reason for why we taught these children - more than just for the sport or making a living during the summer. He balanced the roles of a servant and a teacher of others while still maintaining his strength and dignity and honor. He was non-assuming and giving and deeply caring for those around him. We will all miss him so very much.
After each day of work this summer as I have that popcorn, that reward after a long and hot day in the sun with the children, I will think of him.
To Cindy, Laney and Clark… my prayer is that God spares your tears… and you start to laugh each and every time that you start to cry… I do.