Alumni Celebrate Former Marist Coach Don Shea

By Frank McCloskey ’68
Legendary coach Don Shea, formerly an educator at Marist College (now Marist School), celebrated his 93rd birthday surrounded by former Marist athletes, students, colleagues, and family friends. In collaboration with the Shea family (Donna Shea Clark ’85, Charlie Clark ’17, and Henry Clark ’21), Christie Hauck ’66, Frank McCloskey ’68, and Steve Kerr ’68 warmly welcomed over 35 former classmates and friends to the Shea home in Atlanta in March 2024. Recognizing the enduring bond within the Marist family, all present at the momentous occasion echoed the sentiment that Coach Shea is the golden thread that has touched and influenced countless lives in a myriad of ways. The love, respect, and genuine gratitude for Coach Shea were on full display.
Marist School’s Varsity Head Football Coach Alan Chadwick reminisced about the instant connection he felt with Shea upon joining Marist in 1976. Beyond their familial connections, Chadwick had the privilege of coaching Don’s grandsons, Charlie Clark ’17 and Henry Clark ’21, both standout Marist football players. Adding to the familial bond, Don’s daughter Donna Shea Clark ’85 served as a team mom during the 2020 State Championship season.
Chadwick said, “Coach Shea has meant so much to the ongoing success of Marist football for so many years. I would venture to say he was the one coach who set the foundation of Marist football on its current course of discipline, toughness, and the constant pursuit of excellence.”
Former Marist School Dean of Students and multisport coach Mike Trapani ’70 added, “There is so much more to understand about the man Don Shea that extends beyond his accomplished playing, coaching, and teaching lives.”
Early Life
Donald Patrick Shea was born on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1931, in Collingdale, Pennsylvania. He was the eighth among 13 born to Mary and Martin Shea. After graduating from St. James Catholic High School in Chester, Pennsylvania, he entered Bullis Academy in Silver Springs, Maryland, with aspirations of enrolling in the Naval Academy to play football.
As fate would have it, however, The University of Georgia football coach Wally Butts heard about Shea through Notre Dame’s head coach Frank Leahy. Butts dispatched an assistant with the assignment of bringing Shea back to Athens, or else not return home at all. The assistant spent several days at the Shea family kitchen table trying to persuade Don’s parents to allow him to attend Georgia. Eventually, Mr. Shea agreed, and in the fall of 1951, Don transferred to UGA.
Don Shea excelled as a Bulldog, earning recognition as All-SEC in 1955, serving as co-captain, and receiving the prestigious honors of membership in the Gridiron Society and Sphinx Club, two of the highest accolades for an athlete. Following his graduation, Don was drafted by the Washington Redskins (Commanders), but his professional career was abruptly ended by a severe ankle injury during preseason practice.
Family Life
Don’s most significant accomplishment at UGA was meeting Joyce Lathem of Canton, Georgia, during summer semester. They dated throughout college and were married on October 8, 1956, at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Athens. Don had served as an altar boy there throughout his schooling.
After their honeymoon, the newlyweds returned to Athens to allow Joyce to complete her final year of school and earn her Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Finance. They resided at 285½ South Milledge Avenue.
Family vacations often revolved around games, a testament to Don’s enduring passion for sports. Donna recalls visiting Joyce’s mother’s house for a church potluck dinner. Someone inquired where Don was, and Joyce replied, “Well, there’s no game here. If y’all had a game, he would have come.”
Joyce Lathem Shea passed away on November 1, 2001 after 45 years of marriage to Don.
Arriving at Marist College
Following the completion of his BBA and Bachelor of Arts in History, Shea embarked on his coaching and teaching journey at Newton County High School. There, he served as an assistant football coach and head basketball coach. In 1958, Coach Lou Loncaric extended an invitation to Shea to join Marist College, now known as Marist School, as a coach. Shea accepted, eventually assuming roles as athletic director and head coach for football, baseball, and wrestling in 1960.
David Hynes ’59 vividly recalls the moment when Coach Shea set foot onto Marist’s original Ivy Street football practice field in downtown Atlanta during the summer of 1958. This multi-purpose field served as the parade ground for the Marist Cadet Corps, the baseball diamond, practice area for the track team, and even the recess/lunch location for both Marist and Sacred Heart Girls High School—though not all at the same time.
Hynes recalls clouds of red clay forming into a dust devil swirling up and over Ivy Street during those hot and dusty practices. After one particularly grueling practice, Coach Shea pulled Hynes aside to impart wisdom about being a leader and succeeding. He said, “Winning is the goal, and learning how to be a winner is important.  No one wins everything all the time, and learning from losses can provide valuable lifetime lessons.”
Corporate Life and the Southeastern Conference
After dedicating 11 years to coaching and teaching history at Marist, Don Shea transitioned into a successful career spanning over two decades with Nationwide Paper Company. However, it was his foray into refereeing intramural basketball games that ignited a passion that would define the next 30 years of his life.
Don Shea quickly earned a reputation as one of the most respected basketball referees in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Known as a "players' ref", he maintained constant communication with players during games and timeouts, guiding them to avoid personal fouls. His focus was always on the players, never seeking the spotlight for himself. True to his character, he never hesitated to make tough calls during critical moments of a game.
Over his tenure in the SEC, he regularly refereed National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament games and Final Four matchups. Despite offers to assume higher administrative roles, such as Assistant Commissioner under Hootie Ingram, Shea declined to keep his family from moving. Most importantly, Donna ’85 was close to entering Marist School on the Ashford Dunwoody campus where the school had relocated in 1962.
In November 2007, Referee Magazine recognized Don Shea as one of the “52 Most Influential in Basketball Officiating History.”  This honor stemmed from his role in helping to create the first notable basketball officiating camp, revolutionizing the education and advancement process for basketball officials.
A Legacy of Influence
Don Shea’s influence has extended far beyond his distinguished roles as a player, coach, teacher, corporate professional, and referee.
Donna ’85 eloquently captured her father's impact, stating, “My dad has been successful in life and in everything he has done because he is nice to everyone and never gets a big head. Both he and my mom have always known who they were and what they were about—to encourage and support others.”
“For all your lives so beautifully lived,” said Frank McCloskey ’68, “and for all our lives so profoundly touched, we congratulate you, we thank you, we love you.”
Attendees celebrating Coach Shea’s birthday:
Joe Bruckner ’62
Karen & King Buttermore
Kenny Campbell ’62
Charlie Clark ’17
Donna Shea Clark ’85
Henry Clark ’21
Alan Chadwick
Mike DiCarlo ’68
Jim Field ’59
Whatley Fenlon ’66
Geoff Gibson ’68
Christie ’66 & Melissa Hauck
Bruce Herrig ‘65
David Hynes ’59
Frank Hill ‘68
George Lindley ’65
Lou ’65 & Phyliss Lombardy
Kevin Malone ’67
Lenny Meltz ’66
George Mattingly ’66
Frank McCloskey ’68
John McGreaham ’65
Mike Murphy ’66
Mike Trapani ’70
Mike Walsh ’60
Pat O’Donnell ’68
Allison Phelts
Larry Sertich ’68
Geraldine Senior
Ray Sherwood ’66
Steve ’68 & Janice Kerr
Craig Trapani ’68
John Withers ’59
Joe Neiner ’68
Phil Etheridge ’60

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