By Wald, Bruce
Though she has achieved a distinguished and nationally respected career in athletic administration, Monessen native Donna DeMarino Sanft has never forgotten the significant impact of her upbringing.
A 1970 Monessen High School graduate, Sanft was recently appointed as interim athletic director at the University of Pittsburgh by Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg.
Sanft, the school's senior associate athletic director for administration, student life and compliance, immediately replaced Jeff Long, Pitt athletic director since 2003, who accepted the athletic director's position at the University of Arkansas.
"As we move forward, I am very pleased that Donna Sanft has agreed to serve as interim athletic director" Nordenberg said. "Donna has been a major figure in Pitt athletics since she arrived on campus as a student-athlete."
A 1974 graduate of Pitt with bachelor's and master's degrees in health and physical education, Sanft was a member and three-year captain of the gymnastics team. She was named Pitt's Female Scholar- Athlete of the Year in 1974.
In 1999, Sanft was honored by the Pitt Varsity Letter Club as an Awardee of Distinction, becoming the first female to receive the award.
She then coached the Panthers' gymnastics team for 12 years, and from 1974 through 1986 Sanft compiled an 82-50-1 record. Twice she was selected the Eastern Collegiate Coach of the Year and moved into athletic administration at her collegiate alma mater in 1987.
Before coming to Pitt, Sanft was a standout gymnast for Monessen and the Greyhounds won several championships. Her coach was also her uncle, Baldo "Bud" Giannini. Sanft and her teammates trained at the Monessen Sokols Group that had a training camp just outside of Monessen in Rostraver Township. The offshoot of this is now the Falcon School of Gymnastics in Speers.
"We had some great gymnastic teams and I am a proud Monessen Greyhound," an enthusiastic Sanft said. "It was also a lot of fun."
Her childhood days were also developmental ones.
"There is absolutely no question that my upbringing at Monessen taught me all the solid, blue-collar values that have helped me throughout my whole life," she said. "It was absolutely the foundation of what I have done with any aspect of my life. The blue- collar values such as family first, work hard, respect others, loyalty, do your best every single day, loyalty ... I learned all of those things in Monessen from my family and from the community."
In her position as senior associate athletic director, Sanft has been significantly involved in the department's strategic planning and the professional development of its staff. She also has been responsible for coordinating Pitt's compliance with NCAA rules education programs and overseeing the Panther Game Plan, a student- athlete life skills program.
Additionally, Sanft was the administrative contact for the Panther gymnastic, wrestling and volleyball programs. On a volunteer basis she also handled the organizing and staffing Panther Zone, an alcohol-free social gathering for student football fans, and PAWS, which gives young people in the Oak Hill Community an opportunity to attend weekly sport clinics and life skills educational programs led by Pitt student-athletes.
Earlier this year, she was named a recipient of the Chancellor's Awards for Staff Excellence in service to both the community and the university. …