Danny Dillon trading basketball court for church pulpit
Published 10:04 am Friday, August 15, 2014
FRANKLIN—As the fans are coming in, the Franklin High School Broncos are circling around one another in the locker room. First, they pray — not just about the basketball game ahead, but also for each other in recovering from injuries and dealing with family problems.
Then they circle again, and the coach says, “One school.” The response is yelled, “Franklin!”
“One team,” the reply, “Broncos!”
The boys would then break down the circle, shove one another, jump up and down, get pumped up and go out under the lights to the fans cheering.
“A lot about the pregame was always about the boys being there for each other and showing love,” said Broncos Head Coach Danny Dillon. And when the lights went down and the dust was settled, win or lose, it was about one thing, and that was, “Love. What we had gone through, the sportsmanship, the friendships, that’s what was important. Not one basketball game.”
For Dillon, the lights in the Franklin High School Gymnasium have been shut down for perhaps the final time, at least as a head coach.
Now, the lights will shine on his Sundays, as opposed to Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays and any other day that had been scheduled over the winter sports season. Dillon will become the next head pastor at Rock Church, following in the footsteps of his father, David Dillon.
“I love coaching. I will continue to do that, but it is not necessarily what I was born to do,” said Dillon, who added that ever since he was a child he has felt called by God to minister to people and reach the lost.
But he’s also not planning to abandon the Franklin Broncos.
“I will continue as “Team Chaplain” for the boy’s basketball program and be one of their biggest fans for the rest of my life,” he said.
Basketball wasn’t his only sport, though, as he’d also coached soccer, cross country and golf along the way. Over the years, from 1998 to 2014, in his various coaching roles, he’s amassed 351 total victories. Dillon has received 12 District Coach of the Year awards, three Region A Coach of the Year Awards, 12 District Championships, one Regional Championship and six state appearances. He also said that more than 40 kids had given their hearts to the Lord while he was there.
“All of these accomplishments are a product of the wonderful athletes and support of the Franklin High School Athletic Program,” Dillon said. “Principal Travis Felts and Athletic Director Dave Lease have been amazing along this wonderful journey and were a big reason why I was ever hired.”
As far back as he can remember, sports have been an important part of Dillon’s life.
“I remember playing soccer as a 4-year-old on the YMCA fields,” he said. “I remember as a young teenager my father giving me a basketball and saying, ‘Here, sleep with this until you get married.’
“So that is what I did and God continued to give me a desire to pursue these sports with all that I had.”
He played NCAA Division I soccer and basketball at Liberty University.
“I always knew I was called to the ministry, but I was able to use my gifts of these two sports to continue my ministry at the high school level,” he said. “No matter how much fame or success I would have in college, I always knew that I would come back to Franklin and give back all that I could to one of the greatest communities in the state of Virginia.”
Not long after coming back to Franklin, Dillon was approached to become the head coach for Broncos soccer, where he led the team from 1998-2005.
“In 2002, I was fortunate to lead the Broncos to the greatest season championship in the history of the state, finishing with a record of 16 and 0 and setting a state record of only allowing 2 goals in a single season,” he said. “We finished top 10 in the state six out of the eight years.”
Marc Odoms, who now works at Wells Fargo in Newport News, was on Dillon’s soccer team from 1999-2004.
“We did a lot with little,” Odoms said of the soccer team. “We didn’t have a lot of players that had been playing soccer their whole lives. We’d pull players from basketball, football and that sort of thing.
“And he’d somehow bring it all together. He’d take a group where half of the team had never played soccer before and make them competitive.”
Coach Dillon was special, Odoms said.
“I think what really makes him stick out is that he never lost perspective,” he said. “He put God first, and treated people with respect, even in competition. The other coach would be over there steaming and yelling, and Danny would be completely calm and respectful.”
He didn’t coach like most coaches, either.
“He was big about making it fun and keeping it fresh, and he wouldn’t get down on you,” Odoms said. “He was always upbeat, more about lifting you up, as opposed to telling what did wrong. It was nice to have a positive influence on the sidelines, I think that would help keep you into it more than most.”
Clay Hyatt, who is now Franklin’s boys soccer head coach, played for Dillon in 2004-05.
“He is definitely one of a kind,” Hyatt said. “I see all the time former players coming up to him, and they just want to talk to him and tell him how they are doing. He has special bond with anyone he comes into contact with.”
Hyatt had played soccer before, but had moved on to baseball in high school.
“He convinced me to come back to soccer,” he said. “He made the game a lot of fun.”
“He definitely got my interest in soccer, which led to me playing in college and shaped the rest of my life,” said Hyatt, who played at North Carolina Wesleyan.
Before Dillon had become the soccer coach, he had been the assistant basketball coach under Lease.
Lease said he’d heard a lot about Dillon and knew he had played basketball on the Division I level. They also went to the same church.
“I saw him at the Y one day and asked him if he’d help assist varsity basketball,” Lease said. “He was a great asset. He had a lot of great ideas and we worked well together.”
Then, in 2004, Lease had some advice for Dillon.
“When I was stepping down as head basketball coach, I told Danny that if he was interested in it, he should apply,” he said. “I thought he would do really well.”
And Dillon did do well, said Principal Travis Felts.
“He has done an excellent job these last 10 years,” Felts said. “Great basketball coach, and more importantly, he really cares about the kids he coaches. He wants to see them successful in all facets of life.
“It is a big loss for us. We’ll be able to replace the basketball part of it, but I’m not sure that we can replace him with someone who is a role model and a father figure who goes above and beyond for his players and looks out for his guys.”
Despite the loss for Franklin high, Felts was also happy to see Dillon become the pastor at Rock Church.
“I’m very happy for him,” he said. “This is a great professional move for him.”
Odoms said he always knew that one day Dillon would be leading at Rock Church.
“If you know him, you know that Rock Church was definitely his calling,” he said. “It was always on the horizon.
“I am just very lucky to have him as a mentor and a friend. He’s a great dude, and the school will definitely miss him.”