As Adam Constantine ’10, former Elon University men’s basketball player and current social media manager, put it, Nov. 29 was a day Elon knew would happen at some point but could never truly be prepared to see.
Last Tuesday morning, President Emeritus J. Earl Danieley died at 92. Many came to town for the ceremonies honoring Danieley over the weekend, including former men’s basketball player Sam Hershberger ’16, who said he felt the same as Constantine.
“You know, logically, that people don’t live forever. But Dr. D, he kind of had this immortal sense about him,” Hershberger said. “Up until the day he died, he was sharp as a knife. It was kind of shocking, even though you knew it was going to come.”
His death made the next night’s basketball game against Florida International University feel like more than a typical nonconference game, because it was the first public gathering at a venue Danieley frequented. For redshirt junior Brian Dawkins, the traditional “Dr. Danieley” chant at the under-eight media timeout of the second half was a reminder of what the Phoenix was playing for, and Elon ultimately won 84-81
“It did stick out, and I don’t think it was a distraction. I think it was a good thing. It helped us realize that this game had a little bit extra on it,” Dawkins said. “It was the first game without Dr. Danieley. I think, to honor him in that way and get the crowd into that — I think it helped us down the stretch.
“I think it was a pickup — a little boost that we should go out and play as hard as we can for Dr. Danieley and try and
come out with the win.”
Danieley has been a major influencer on Elon’s sports for decades, but in recent years developed an unbreakable bond with the men’s basketball team, attending nearly every home game. But his presence was something head coach Matt Matheny felt beyond the game itself.
“To me, he is Elon. To sit courtside, to have the towel in his hand, to be there after games, to give our guys a hug and a handshake — it’s
really, really special,” Matheny said. “He’s been to practice, and for us to practice and have Dr. D on the sideline watching us … I think, ‘Wow, how fortunate are we to be able to share time with Mr. Elon?’”
The team was able to frequently spend time with Danieley off the court, with nearly every player taking his “History of Elon” class each Winter Term and witnessing the passion he had for Elon firsthand.
“No matter if he was at a basketball game, a volleyball game or we saw him walking around campus, that’s how affectionate and passionate he was about the people that go here and the people that work here and everything about Elon,” Dawkins said. “I think that’s why we have a strong connection with him — because he’s that lovable of a person.”
Sophomore forward Tyler Seibring added, “His affection was so genuine, and you could feel that any time you talked to him or anytime you’re meeting with him. He’s a landmark here, and he still is — no matter what. He had a powerful impact on this campus long before I was here, but even in my time, I appreciated everything he’s done.”
And when the moment that came every game — the chant — started last Wednesday, many of the fans stood and waved the white towels given to them before the game, all looking at the empty seat near the front row. Matheny said he often misses the chant, being too focused on the game, but didn’t
miss it this time.
“I liked it, and I didn’t get to enjoy it much. But I saw it a few times, and it’s pretty cool,” Matheny said. “When we were breaking the huddle [Nov. 30], to see the whole crowd doing it, that was pretty cool.”
And no matter what sticks out to each individual — for Matheny, the talks at College Coffee; for Hershberger, his sense of humor;
for senior guard Luke Eddy and many others, the warm hug and kiss on the cheek — he will forever be a part of the team.
“He loved our guys, and he loved a lot of people. It was genuine love,” Matheny said. “We are really fortunate to have spent time with him and loved him the way he loved us. Two great commodities in this world are time and love, and we got to share both with him. Pretty special.”