LUTZ — Scott Donald doesn’t receive any money as an assistant girls basketball coach at Steinbrenner High.
To Donald, a 33-year-old economics and government honors teacher at the school, the moments he can spend with the team — teaching the game of basketball and encouraging the athletes — is all the payment he desires.
“I love it,” Donald said. “I love basketball. Helping out serves as a distraction for me.”
At age 19, Donald was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a chronic disease of the liver. The only way to treat the disease is to have a liver transplant.
When he was 25, Donald had his first transplant. Two months ago, he had a second.
Three days after being released from the hospital in December, with nearly 40 staples in his torso and limited to certain movements, Donald sat on the bench to help coach Steinbrenner against Spoto. His father, who traveled from Indiana to help care for him following the surgery, had to drive Donald to the game.
“He’s been a tremendous blessing,” Steinbrenner head coach J.R. Allen said. “His passion for the game is one of the first things I saw right out of the gate. It’s great to bring somebody on who shares that same passion for basketball. I think that was obvious in watching what he went through with his health situation.
“At times, he seemed like he would completely disregard that like it wasn’t even going on, because he was so passionate about being around and being involved with our basketball program.”
On Tuesday, Donald was coaching during a scrimmage at practice. His group won, 71-65. He stood on the sideline despite dealing with complications of his recent surgery. Under his practice gear, Donald was wearing a special tube and bag to extract fluid from his liver. Senior forward Rachel Briere, the team’s go-to player, was on Donald’s squad.
“He’s more of the coach that will tell you to come together, calm down, think about what you’re doing, don’t rush anything, don’t force anything,” she said. “In that scrimmage we just played, we got a little frazzled, and he’s the one that calmed us down.”
A native of Indiana, Donald played basketball and baseball in high school. He later attended Indiana University.
“Without coaching, if all I did is go to work and lesson-plan and grade papers, I’d go crazy,” Donald said. “The basketball side is what’s fun for me. Game day is really fun.”
Donald was a teacher and assistant girls basketball coach at Plant High for several years, but he moved to Steinbrenner to be closer to home. Early in the school year, he approached Allen about joining his staff as a volunteer. When Donald learned he would require another liver transplant, however, he couldn’t bring himself to quit the team. Disappointing the people he cares about, he said, is his biggest fear. While in the hospital, Donald would watch game film and upload team statistics to the Internet.
“He would call us from the hospital for pregame talks,” Briere said. “We’ve gotten really close to him in the short time he has been here. He’s been really great.”
Allen has used Donald’s situation to remind his players how precious the ability to play basketball — and life — can be.
“To teach the girls to make sure that whenever you are doing anything, whether it be basketball with us or anything else, appreciate every chance that you get to do it, because you never know when it can be taken from you,” Allen said.
Said Donald: “I’ve just enjoyed coaching the girls so much. As long as coach Allen keeps asking me to come back, I will.”