BY PETE MOHR | JUNE 30, 2010
Danica Gianni, coaching softball and teaching life lessons, is Sonoran News’ 2009-2010 Girls ‘Coach-of-the-Year’
CSHS – Nearing the end of the interview for this feature, Girls Head Softball Coach Danica Gianni (“Doneet-sa,” is the correct pronunciation of the Serbian word for “morning star”), obviously more than a little touched, told this writer, “My team calls me Mama G.” and she, “right back at” them. I tell ‘em, ‘You’re my second family. We’re a family. And because we’re so close, we get through the tough times together.’ That’s a big thing for me.”
With that spirit of togetherness as the foundation of her coaching, Sonoran News is pleased to announce Danica Gianni as its 2009-2010 “Girls Coach of the Year.” And she “can’t wait!” for the 2011 season, after graduating only one starter from the 2010 Lady Falcons, who fought to a 9-9 regular season break-even; upset #3-ranked Peoria in State 1st Round; then lost a windblown 2-1 heartbreaker at perennial softball power (Tucson) Canyon del Oro. Laughingly, Coach G., a self-described “control freak,” vows to “shut my mouth and let ‘em play!” Helping her keep that “vow” will be a solid staff: Assistant Coach Bill Ferguson, JV Coach Doug Schwartz and Pitching Coach Mike McIver.
Born in Chicago, July 21, 1970, Danica, a high school basketball and softball player who ran cross country at University of Illinois at Chicago, acknowledges, “Sports have taught me a lot.” Who was her teacher for whom she is most grateful? Her father, Slobodan Petrovic, died in September of 2009. “He taught me the humility and unselfishness of playing a team sport.”
To her Lady Falcons, she stresses the importance of making a commitment – both individually and as a team – to the old-fashioned values of loyalty, good citizenship, self-discipline and, most of all, as she learned from her Dad, unselfishness. “Those principles can be learned even if you’re sitting on the bench,” she believes.
The home team: Lady Falcons’ Danica Gianni (Coach #1) and Notre Dame Prep’s Head Baseball Coach Gaetano “Guy” Gianni (Coach #2), with their children, Gabriella, soon to be 12, and Antonio, closing in on 5.
Photos by Pete Mohr
Danica remembers that her first in-person encounter with the handsome Gaetano Gianni took place at a Bally’s Health Club in Chicago. They married in 1997, relocating to The Valley on July 5, 2002, after Guy had emerged from a nationwide search as Notre Dame Prep’s first head baseball coach. Then CSHS Athletic Director Dale Nicol hired Danica to coach Girls Softball and then Assistant Principal – Curriculum Monica Barrett (now the new “A.D.” at Notre Dame) “persuaded me to teach all levels of high school English.”
Danica remembers her first season (2003) as a tough start. Recent coaching instability and resistance to new coaching instruction were the principal obstacles that had to be overcome. In 2005, she took an economically-driven leave of absence to re-orient her career from the classroom/softball field to selling residential real estate. Today she is a successful Prudential agent. “I could’ve quit,” she recalls, “but I’m glad I came back to coaching softball, determined to stick it out. These outstanding young women are so energizing to work with. They keep me young!”
In addition to being wife to “Gaetano” (as she calls him) and mother to Gabriella and Antonio, Danica teaches writing classes (twice daily) at PVCC and (in her spare time) evaluates student teachers for Ottawa University. Multi-tasking personified!
What will keep Danica exhorting her Lady Falcons from the third base coach’s box? “The love of the game,” she answers unhesitatingly, then enthusing immediately, “I Love these kids!”
And they, you, Mama G.!