By Matt Williams
SALEM — Perhaps the only people more surprised than the humble Greg Doonan — the 47th annual Salem News Student-Athlete of the Year winner — when his name was called at last night's awards banquet at The Salem Waterfront Hotel & Suites were his proud parents, Mary and George.
Doonan, a senior at Peabody High School, was selected by a panel of five judges from a pool of 14 applicants, which included the top student-athlete from each school in the Salem News coverage area.
"In all seriousness, looking around the room and seeing people going to Princeton and Harvard, I didn't think I stood a chance," said Doonan. "I never expected this; I'm very honored."
Deciding between Notre Dame and Boston College for his college plans, Doonan stood out among the best of the best of the North Shore's student-athletes.
Among a group of nominees that were all outstanding in both the classroom and on their respective playing fields, Doonan's genuinely caring demeanor and honest humility stood out.
"Greg honestly believes he isn't in the same group as these other kids, when in fact he is exactly the embodiment of what we want the winner of this award to be," said longtime Salem News sports editor Phil Stacey, a judge for the last decade.
"He keeps things in perspective, and you get the sense that he's very even-keeled and doesn't get rattled. He's poised and very much believes in the axiom that hard work gets you results in the long run."
The fifth Tanner to win this award and first since Caleb Pelger in 2001, Doonan is a two-sport captain at Peabody High. He helped the Tanners soccer team win the Northeastern Conference last fall, and enjoyed an 31-set winning streak last tennis season — a remarkable feat given that it was his first as a singles player.
"It can be difficult transition, and what impressed his teammates and I about Greg wasn't his wins, but the way he earned them with hard work and determination," said Tanners tennis coach Chris Vasseur.
In the classroom, Doonan ranks eighth in a senior class of 480 with a grade point average of 3.86. His extensive course load includes five advanced placement classes.
For Doonan, when school and sports are over the day is just beginning. His community service record is as impressive as anything on his resume — a tough feat for one as gleaming as his.
For starters, he is a member of the National Honor Society and organized the "Passion Plunge" — a frigid leap in the ocean in the dead of winter — to raise money for Special Olympics. He also helped with the "Jolly Jaunt" 5K road race to benefit the same cause.
A natural leader, Doonan has been on Peabody's captain's council as well as a representative of the student council. He represented PHS on the Northeast Regional Student Advisory Council.
"Greg is a leader both on and off the field," said longtime Peabody soccer coach Stan McKeen. "A very hard working and dedicated individual, Greg's leadership is shown by his intelligence, skill, speed and unrelenting hustle."
Doonan came out on top of an impressive crop of candidates that included Heidi Johnson (Ipswich), Michael Koniares (Masconomet), Abby Poeske (Bishop Fenwick), Kelly O'Connor (Beverly), Ryan Mahan (North Shore Tech), Anne Osborne (Manchester Essex), Tara Nimkar (Swampscott), Robert Chapruet (Danvers), Ryan Heffrin (Marblehead), Brian Wettach (St. John's Prep), Ashley Felton (Salem), Emily Lanois (Hamilton-Wenham) and Josh Shain (Pingree).
"The toughest job in all of this is the principals and athletic directors who have to choose just one kid from their entire institution," said Salem news editorial page editor Nelson Benton. "They were all outstanding candidates."
Aspiring to be involved in sports media or communication, Doonan will have a tough time deciding between Notre Dame and Boston College. He even had a mini-recruiting war brewing at home: older brother Patrick (a three season athlete at PHS who graduated in 2005) is set to graduate from Notre Dame this spring, and sister Christine currently studies at B.C.
"Whatever Greg does in life, he will be successful," said McKeen. "He has the ability, courage and fortitude to accomplish whatever he sets his mind to."