The head coaches for Sonora High School baseball and basketball teams have resigned, with both saying they want to spend more time with their families.
Will Sarkisian just completed his second season as the Wildcat baseball coach; Dan Dona served as head basketball coach for four seasons.
“It's more of a family thing, realizing the time you put into other people's kids and the time it takes away from your family,” Dona said. “It's something I've been going through personally and praying about.”
Dona said he has coached at some level for 22 years and enjoyed it, but “it's time to find a different joy in my life.”
His sons are 15 and 12. He said he wants to be able to spend more time with them and his wife, especially being outdoors as they did this past weekend when they went fly fishing below Kennedy Meadows. Coaching, plus a full complement of physical education classes, leaves little time for that, he said.
Sarkisian, whose children are 4, 2 and 10 months, echoed Dona's comments.
He's been coaching for 12 years overall and often missed reading and bedtime with his kids. The responsibilities of a coach extend to their families. He remembers his 4-year-old son asking whether he had baseball one day. When Sarkisian said he did, the boy's dejected look was heartbreaking.
“I thought, OK what am I doing,” he said. “Are my priorities in line?”
He said when he told Athletic Director Karen Sells he was resigning he apologized.
“I thought this would be something I'd do for 25-30 years,” he said.
Dona was coming off a particularly successful season ending 20-6 overall and 10-2 in the Mother Lode League. A Sonora graduate, he has been associated with the Wildcat basketball as a coach since 1983 when he worked as assistant coach for the JV girls' team while working for UPS and going to college. He left for a year to go to Calaveras High to do his student teaching and then returned to Sonora in 2000 as a full-time PE teacher and JV boys' coach.
When he was named head varsity basketball coach in 2013, he was the school's third head coach in 60 years, following the long tenures of Rick Francis and Bud Castle, for whom the gymnasium is named.
Dona said he never felt the pressure of following in Francis' footsteps.
“Rick is like a father to me,” he said. “He's always been supportive and I've always appreciated his feedback.”
His overall record as a head coach was 44-31-0.
Sarkisian, who teaches all sections of English for juniors, was born and raised in Tuolumne County. He graduated from Mother Lode Christian, where he played shortstop and catcher, attended Columbia College and then University of California Santa Barbara. He earned a bachelor's degree in English and a masters in education there.
He taught and coached baseball at Moorpark High in Ventura County for nine years before coming back to Sonora in 2014.
“Baseball is a grind,” he said. “You're playing three-four-five days a week and losing is terrible, but at the end of the day it's a game and we're learning and we're playing.”
Last season, his team went 9-13-2.
Both men said they had nothing but good memories of their time as head coach.
Dona said it is particularly fulfilling to see where his players have gone with their lives and to have their children come back for summer basketball camp.
Among his best memories are times he carried his babies in packs while he coached and seeing the young men interact with them and on buses talking late into the night with his players about life and goals.
Sarkisian, too, said his best memories are the interactions with players.
“It's a joy to be out there for a couple of hours when there's nothing else to think about other than baseball,” Sarkisian said. “That's what I'll miss most.”