He's qualified because: Fought through a season-opening loss, several early injuries and wire-to-wire demanding schedule to reach the highest level of achievement – a 14-1 record in the Tri-River Athletic Conference, 30-2 overall mark, second straight Central Section Division I title and final No. 1 rankings in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and nation by ESPN RISE. He is 83-12-1 in the past three seasons, 308-90 overall in 13 years with the Bears and has won four of the past seven D-I championships. "Tom's what we call a 'worker,' " Hanford West coach Michael Remy says. "he out-works people."
No screech in the orchestra: Coaching championship teams is hardly novel to Donald, but this group defined itself with camaraderie. "They were very unselfish, just happy to be part of the team," he says. "When someone had success, they were right there enjoying it with them. There was no envy. And the seniors made sure the juniors and sophomores were part of the team every day."
Didn't blink under pressure: The Bears didn't play as if they were under the microscope – yet they were as the top-ranked team wire-to-wire by The Bee, ranked all along in the state, for most of the season nationally and, for the last three weeks, No. 1 in the land by a combination of two polls. "We always said, 'Enjoy the ride, but eliminate the distractions and focus on the task at hand,' and the guys bought into it," Donald says. "They knew the rankings only meant something if they won the last game. They were very driven but, at the same time, very loose. You didn't see kids with wide-open eyes in clutch situations."
Thanking the other guy: It was part record, part competition, that vaulted Buchanan to the top of the state and national polls. Cal-Hi Sports editor Mark Tennis recognized the TRAC as the state's finest. The league's six teams went 74-13 in nonleague play, believed to be unprecedented in state history. "We wouldn't have earned the ranking if not for the baseball and high level of coaching in the Central Valley and, specifically, within the TRAC," Donald says. "We share with everybody. It's a reflection of baseball in the Valley."
Dandy deputies: One more loss and, in the world of subjective rankings, it's unlikely national notoriety finds Bears Nation. On a team that didn't turn out lights physically (pitcher/shortstop Seth Moranda was the only player drafted), fundamentals were executed exceptionally. And while, technically, Donald is The Bee's Coach of the Year, it might as well been the Staff of the Year.
A salute to the assistants, with Donald comments:
John Sylvia, multi-faceted aide for all of Donald's 13 years: "He knows the system and expectations. Whether it's working the fields or the snack bar, in addition to coaching and throwing batting practice, he's the guy."
Joe Kemp, an assistant for 15 years at Clovis and now seven at Buchanan, he's contributed to a total of three national mythical titles and nine section crowns: "When I think of Joe I think of preparedness and his impact daily and during games. He makes sure the boys have relevant information. He's a wealth of experience and a highly intense individual who gets the best out of players."
Todd Johnson, former Bee Player of the Year and head coach at Bullard played a key role in particular with the breakout season of Bears catcher Jeff Brown, The Bee's Player of the Year this season: "As a former head coach, he understands the demands and is very helpful to me in making personnel decisions and decisions in general. He did a nice job of honing and polishing the skills of Jeff."
Bryan Marsoobian, ex-Fresno State player bounces into the Bears' first-base coaching box with some giddy in his step: "He relishes the role of coaching on a daily basis and watching the players improve. He really identifies well with players and is a good liaison between players and head coach. He makes it all fun."
John Gross, no accident that the Drew Merlos and Dominic Topoozians of Buchanan lore – as examples in the past two years – exploded from nowhere to somewhere under this pitching mentor: "He has a calming influence, a perfect temperament for a pitching coaching, yet, at the same time, he's very competitive. He's very prepared as a classroom teacher, and he does the same thing on the baseball field."
Jace Brown, latest addition to the staff and older brother of Jeff Brown was a second baseman on the Bears' section title teams of 2005 and '06: "Having gone through the system, he knows the expectations, communicates well and relates well, knowing what's acceptable and what's not. He can head things off at the pass if there's choppy waters."