Kelly Donohoe sits in his activities director’s office at Blue Springs High School and juggles phone calls, a stack of sticky note messages and impromptu visits from members of his Wildcats football staff with ease, and a welcoming smile.
The highly successful and popular head football coach at Blue Springs High School can’t wait for the upcoming season. He has always had a passion for the sport, but this season is going to be extra special.
“Yeah, you know, this season is just going to be about football and not all that other stuff,” said Donohoe, who underwent successful chemotherapy last year after it was discovered that he had cancer in his pelvic region.
“There were tough days, I’m not going to lie to you, but we got through it, and now we’re heading into this season and we’re so excited about our team. Even with all the cancer stuff last year, I always tried to make it about the team – I didn’t want anything to be about me.
“I think that’s one of the things that really bothered me about last year. I’m a team-first guy, and I didn’t want to be getting the attention – the attention for all the wrong reasons.
“But we got through it, the chemotherapy worked. I have my hair back,” he added grinning, while yanking his full head of hair. “And I’m so excited to be getting ready for this season. There were so many distractions last season and now, it’s just wall-to-wall football – and that’s the way it should be.”
He’s in remission, and although he looks to be in great shape, he admits that he’s going to need some time to make a full recovery.
“My doctors told me it’s like when a hurricane wipes out a city, it takes a while to build it back,” Donohoe explained. “It might be a year before I feel 100 percent, but I sure feel better than I did last season. And that excites me.”
It’s easy now for Donohoe to admit that the love and attention he received when his cancer diagnosis became public knowledge caught him off guard.
“That was a very interesting time, wasn’t it Sarah?” he asked, calling out to activities office administrative assistant Sarah Schulenberg, who nods in agreement.
“The calls, the texts, the emails, the messages – it was pretty overwhelming at first. Like I’ve said, I don’t like anything to be about me.”
Schulenberg is quick to add, “It was inspiring. I don’t think you know how many peoples’ lives you’ve touched.”
When asked about any surprise messages he received, Donohoe said, “Jim Harbaugh.”
“How about that? Jim Harbaught (the head football coach at the University of Michigan) sent me the most uplifting text. I think everyone knows about (former Blue Springs South boys basketball coach and Blue Springs grad) Jimmy Cain and how his wife Amy’s sister married Jim (Harbaugh), but for him to take time to reach out to me was really special.
“It was special that so many people reached out to me. I can never thank them enough.”
Donohoe is now getting ready for a football season that poses so much promise and he is now a member of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. He was inducted Jan. 27 in a ceremony in Springfield.
“It was amazing getting that honor, but I think it should be for the Blue Springs High School football program – our coaches, our players, everyone involved with the program – not me.
“I would have felt more comfortable if it was the Blue Springs football program being inducted, but like I said, it’s just a great honor.”
Donohoe was named the 2018 Missouri Class 6 Coach of the Year after leading the Wildcats to the final four of the state playoffs.
In 19 seasons as head coach at Blue Springs High School, he is 210-55 (.792 winning percentage) and has led the Wildcats to seven state championship games, with four state titles (2001, 2003, 2012 and 2013).
His 2001 and 2013 teams both finished 14-0, while the 2003 team finished 13-0, and the 2012 squad went 13-1.
His 2009, 2016 and 2017 teams were state runners-up. Additionally, his teams have advanced to one other state semifinal (2018) and seven other state quarterfinal appearances (2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2014, 2015).
Now that his health has returned – along with his hair – the smile on his face has never been bigger or brighter.
“I can’t wait for this season to start,” he said. “I just can’t wait.”