People who question the benefits of high school sports really should talk to 1997 Fox Chapel Area High School graduate Dann Kabala. A former quad athlete who played football, basketball, track, and baseball for the Foxes, Dann says his positive experiences had a huge impact on him, and even led to the career choices he’s made as an adult.
“I loved my time playing Fox Chapel Area sports, and I’m proud to say I’m a Fox Chapel Area graduate,” says Dann, who now serves as a recruiting coordinator for the Penn State University Football Program. “When people ask me why I got into recruiting and college football, one of the first things I tell them is the story of how my life changed when I played football in my senior year of high school.”
Dann continues, “I was on the team for four years, and a couple of those years we were really bad. But in my senior year, we were 8-3, went to the WPIAL playoffs, and won our first postseason game, something that hadn’t happened in the 13 years beforehand. I saw the way the community responded to our success and the positive impact we had on the community, and that’s when I decided what I wanted to do with my life.”
After that memorable year, Dann attended Johns Hopkins University and played football for one year before transferring to Indiana University. He gave up playing, but remained close to the game by earning a degree in sports management. He adds with a laugh, “Actually, my sister was the better athlete in our family. She was inducted into the Fox Chapel Area Schools Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.”
Theresa Kabala Thompson was the first Lady Fox to score 1,000 points in basketball, set the then-school record in javelin, and lead the softball team in pitching wins and home runs. She remains in the area and serves as a first-grade teacher at Kerr Elementary School.
Dann’s adventures in football took a rather circuitous path after college. He interned with the Jacksonville Jaguars and then moved back to the Fox Chapel area and, from 2003 to 2005, served as an intern with the Fox Chapel Area School District athletic department. He went on to become a grad assistant with the University of Pittsburgh’s football program under head coach Dave Wannstedt, and then earned his MBA while he was there. Upon completion of his master’s degree, he was offered a job by Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long, who had held the same role at Pitt during Dann’s time with the team. He spent four years at Arkansas as the on-campus recruiting coordinator with the football program and head coach Bobby Petrino. But Pitt’s new head football coach Paul Christ lured him back to Pittsburgh by offering him a position as the Panther’s director of player personnel.
He was with the program for five years and counts James Conner, now with the Steelers, and Tyler Boyd, who is with the Cleveland Browns, as among his most visible recruits.
After leaving Pitt, Dann spent a year working in the financial industry. But in spring 2018, he received a phone call from Penn State Head Coach James Franklin asking if he would interview for their vacant recruiting coordinator position. After a few interviews, Franklin extended him an offer to join their program in Happy Valley, and Dann couldn’t have been more thrilled.
He reviews potential recruits to build their roster, evaluates them, and advises the coaches as to whom they might want to look at more closely. Because of strict compliance regulations, one thing he isn’t able to do is go on the road or, in fact, attend any high school football games anywhere. Only the coaches are permitted to make those visits.
“I really miss that,” says Dann, “and I’m hoping that will change.”
While he misses the personal contact with the players while they are still in high school, he says it’s the relationships that he develops with the players once they get on campus that are the most satisfying part of his job.
“I just like this level, as opposed to the NFL, because you get to help the kids grow more in the time they are here than any other time in their lives,” he explains. “The transition from teenager to young adult, and preparing them along that journey, is very rewarding.
Dann adds, “I learned a long time ago that if we can help others reach their goals, then we also reach our own career goals.”
That adage seems to be working well for a guy from the Fox Chapel area who grew up playing sports with the Foxes and discovered his true passion in life as a result of it.