Donaghy stepping back from the sidelines

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Woodland athletic trainer Ray Donaghy carries his equipment during a football game at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury in 2009. Donaghy has retired as the school’s athletic trainer but will remain as a physical education teacher. –KYLE BRENNAN
Woodland athletic trainer Ray Donaghy carries his equipment during a football game at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury in 2009. Donaghy has retired as the school’s athletic trainer but will remain as a physical education teacher. –KYLE BRENNAN

BEACON FALLS — Nearly 10 years ago, Woodland quarterback Jared Katchmar suffered a severely sprained ankle in the Hawks’ 41-8 win over Watertown. The injury forced him to miss the following week’s game at Wilby, a 26-19 upset loss that embarrassed a team in its first Naugatuck Valley League season.

Katchmar refused to miss the following week’s game, a Halloween showdown with Naugatuck. He wanted to play that night in 2003, but there was only one man who got him ready to go — Woodland athletic trainer Ray Donaghy.

“I spent many, many hours in here with Jared,” Donaghy said as he cleaned his training room Monday afternoon. “Places I should have been, I was in here instead. I was working him through study halls and after school. He listened and did what he had to do.”

“It really was bad,” Katchmar said in recounting his injury last Thanksgiving. “I was on crutches two days before the Naugatuck game. Ray Donaghy had me in there getting constant treatment. I was skipping class to get treatment, and the teachers were good with it as long as I made up the work.”

Donaghy’s work with Katchmar helped bear some of the sweetest fruit in Woodland history. Katchmar set then-school records with a 23-of-44, 437-yard, four-touchdown performance in a miraculous 40-37 victory. He tossed the game-winning 16-yard touchdown pass to Pat Krakowski as time expired.

“That was kind of a Willis Reed moment,” Donaghy said. “I try to be humble about it because I just did my job. He gave me a game ball after that Naugatuck game. That was the start of everything. I’ll never forget that night.”

If that was the start of everything, this month’s spring football scrimmage was the end of something. It marked the last contest with Donaghy patrolling the sidelines as Woodland’s trainer.

Donaghy retired from that position with the end of the school year. He will remain as a physical education teacher, but the school will have to contract a new physical training service starting in August.

Donaghy said he had been thinking about ending his training career as far back as 2011 but seriously considered it over last summer. He cited the opportunity to spend more time with his family and the long hours of the training job as the biggest reasons for his retirement.

“It was becoming a wear,” Donaghy said. “I initially thought I would come in and do football because I didn’t want to leave them in a lurch. But then I didn’t want to leave anybody in a lurch.”

Donaghy graduated from Central Connecticut State University in 1993 and began working with Connecticut Physical Therapy in Hartford, where he also became the head trainer of the Connecticut Coyotes arena football team. He soon helped start a sports medicine clinic in Waterbury, where he began working with local high schools as an athletic trainer.

His teaching career began soon after when he was hired as the Region 16 elementary schools’ health teacher, and he moved to Woodland shortly after the school’s opening. There, he worked with athletic director Dan Scavone to establish an effective training department.

“Dan Scavone knew what needed to be done here, and between the two of us we did it,” Donaghy said. “He gave me a lot of leeway and let me take the initiative.”

Although some of his colleagues tried to push him into physical therapy, Donaghy said he always wanted to work with athletes and is happy with how his career developed. Woodland, especially, brought a level of cooperation he hadn’t seen at previous schools.

“All the coaches here have been 100 percent supportive,” Donaghy said. “I ran into coaches at other schools that didn’t have a trainer before and they still wanted to do things the old school way. This was my dream job. I never would have changed anything or done anything else.”

Donaghy maintained his relationship with the football team is his most special. The team gave him a helmet before the spring game earlier this month.

“I was made to be part of it by Chris Anderson and all the coaches,” Donaghy said. “They took me in and I was part of the program. I was so close to them every day. That (2004 football title) was the first championship I’ve ever won at anything, and it was like, ‘Holy cow, this is what it’s like.’”

Starting with the next school year, Donaghy will finally get to leave Woodland at a normal time. He said he hasn’t been to the gym in almost five years and rarely gets to cut the grass without nightfall’s interruption. Those are changes he won’t mind, but there are some he will.

“People ask if I’m going to miss it, and I tell them that I’m not going to miss the late nights and the 20-degree weather,” Donaghy said. “But at the spring football game, it hit me. Working that closely with the team — thinking about all the kids I grew close to over the last 12 years. Guys like Jared Katchmar are people I’ll be friends with for the rest of my life.”