SPRINGFIELD — Friday nights have been different for Mike Dellapina this fall.
For the first time in nine years, the Springfield High School athletic director is spending Friday nights without his baby brother Danny Dellapina, the former Wildcats linebackers coach who died unexpectedly last April at the age of 52.
Springfield’s season-opening victory over St. Ignatius last month was a “surreal experience,” Mike said. He didn’t see his brother in his office before the game or later that night on the sidelines.
“The day was so busy and I really hadn’t had time to think about it,” he said. “I got home and it all came flooding. It really hit me then that (Danny’s) gone. … It took on a different layer on Friday night. That part is hard to grasp sometimes.”
On Friday night, the Wildcats will honor their former assistant coach before their Week 5 game against Beavercreek. The players will also be wearing blue helmet stickers with the words: Coach Dell.
“He was a great contributor to the program for the last nine years we were together,” said Springfield coach Maurice Douglass.
Dellapina played defensive line at both Catholic Central and Capital University before beginning his coaching career at South. He was a longtime assistant coach under several South head coaches, including Tom Adams, Rick Robertson and Tony Broering. During that time, he also coached alongside his other brother, Tim Dellapina, who served as Broering’s defensive coordinator.
“Friday nights have been a huge part of our family,” Mike Dellapina said.
Danny Dellapina later returned to Springfield to join Robertson’s staff when the schools merged in 2008.
A few years later, he joined the staff at Tecumseh with the late Kent Massie — his college roommate and best friend. The Braves won the 2012 Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division championship and earning a playoff berth.
“It was a dream they had of being able to coach together,” Mike said. “It was really special for them.”
Douglass and Danny Dellapina first coached together at South during Broering’s tenure as head coach. When Douglass returned to take over the program at Springfield more than a decade later, he quickly asked Danny Dellapina to join his staff, knowing he had a knack for reaching his players in a unique way.
“He was somebody they could go to if they had any type of situation that was taking place in the building or outside the building,” Douglass said. “He was an easy ear. He was always saying encouraging words to guys and was always upbeat. He was somebody they could come to if they needed just about anything.”
Danny Dellapina, who also served as an intervention specialist at Springfield High, was able to reach his players despite being deaf in one ear, his brother said.
“It was a disability he was able to overcome because he was really a good listener,” Mike said. “When people would come to him, his students especially, they knew he was listening to them. He listened with another level of concern because not only was he trying to hear everything that you said, but he cared. He cared about others. I think that’s the part I’m missing the most, what he brought daily, during the games and after the games. It’s made Friday nights a lot different.”
Danny Dellapina coached several successful linebackers during his time at Springfield, including Trey DePriest and Jaivian Norman. Mike said his brother wanted nothing more than to inspire his players and students to be “the best versions of themselves.”
“He wouldn’t sugarcoat it with them,” he said. “He would give them the critique they needed, but he would also build them up. I think that’s what separates good coaches from great coaches. The great coaches know how to reach each kid and that was one of his strengths.”
Springfield is 1-3 for the first time since 2014. Mike said Danny would have a clear message for the players: Stay the course.
“More than anything, he would tell our kids and our coaches that this is a time when we need to stay together,” he said. “The only ones that are here putting the time in and doing what we do are the ones in the room. You’ve got to tune out the outside noise. Everything we want to accomplish still lies in front of us.”
While Friday nights may never be the same, Mike said, he was blessed and fortunate to have spent the last four seasons — including four state semifinal appearances and back-to-back state runner-up finishes — with his brother.
“(Danny) loved everything about Friday nights — the band, the cheerleaders, the fans, the pageantry, the atmosphere of high school football,” he said. “He didn’t get into it to be rich, but he certainly became extremely wealthy in the relationships he built, the memories he helped create for other people and the impact he had on so many kids.”
WEEK 5 SCHEDULE
Beavercreek at Springfield
Kenton Ridge at Shawnee
Northwestern at Tecumseh
Catholic Central at Mechanicsburg
Cedarville at Northeastern
West Jefferson at Southeastern
Greenon at Fairbanks
North Union at Urbana
Graham at London
West Liberty-Salem at Madison Plains
Triad at Greeneview