Danvers High’s greatest basketball player has become the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s most accomplished director of intercollegiate athletics.
Now, after 31 years in the department at Lowell — including the last 23 as the man in charge — Dana Skinner, the former Merrimack College Division 2 All-America hoopster and Boston Celtics draft choice, is retiring.
“It’s been an honor to be in this position all these years,” says Skinner, who will step down on September 17, his 63rd birthday. That's exactly 31 years after Wayne Edwards, the director at Lowell at the time, took a chance and brought him on board as an assistant.
Seven years later, Edwards would depart and Skinner would become in charge of the athletic department and its multi-million dollar budget, one that has grown from $5 million to $19 million in his two-plus decades as AD.
“After doing all my coaching and getting my graduate degree in sports administration from St. Thomas University in Miami, my initial goal was to run a Boys and Girls Club," Skinner admitted. "That direction changed, but most importantly I was still able to be involved with young people — at a different level of course — for the next three decades.
“It’s been great in every respect,” he added. “I’ve been able to engage with thousands of student-athletes involved with intercollegiate athletics, and thousands more over the years through our new Campus Recreation Center and new outdoor facilities.
"At the same time, we’ve used our programs to promote positive social change, improve individual lives and strengthen our community. We’ve been involved long-term with Special Olympics, Make-A-Wish Foundation and the National Youth Sports Program (NYSP). Everyone involved has been gratified by contributing to those outstanding causes.”
Skinner’s personal and professional achievements since his days at Danvers High are breathtaking.
The first All-State basketball player in DHS history, he went on to become a Division 2 All-American at Merrimack College before getting into coaching. He spent a season as the head coach of the New England Gulls of the Women’s Professional Basketball Association, three years as the head coach at Bishop Fenwick, and two seasons in charge of the Salem State men's basketball team.
The achievements of Skinner and many talented staff members once he succeeded Edwards at UMass Lowell are equally stunning. Consider that he oversaw:
- Completion of a 10-year program upgrading all of UMass Lowell athletic and recreational facilities
- Secured $80 million in facility enhancements, including construction of the 6,496-seat Tsongas Center, home of the UMass-Lowell basketball and hockey teams
- Creation of the 5,000-seat LaLecheur Park, home of the River Hawk baseball team and the Boston Red Sox affiliate Lowell Spinners
- Renovated the school's Cushing Field complex for soccer, field hockey and track and field
- A new softball complex
- New locker rooms and office space for the coaching staff
- Renovation of the University boathouse
- Creation of the $19 million state-of-the-art Campus Recreation Center
- Successful process over a four-year period of transforming the intercollegiate athletic program from NCAA Division 2 to NCAA Division 1
- Successful campaign for acceptance into the NCAA Division 1 America East Conference and continued success for the hockey team as a perennial Division 1 contender in Hockey East
During Skinner's tenure at UMass Lowell, 55 River Hawk teams won conference titles during their 12 years as a member of the Division 2 Northeast-10 Conference, and 102 of those teams earned NCAA tournament berths.
Under his watch, the average home attendance for hockey games increased from 3,100 fans per game to more than 5,200, and hockey-related revenues in recent years increased 122 percent. In addition, University student-athletes performed outreach activities in recent years that have impacted more than 10,000 people annually, and every UML varsity team has adopted a youngster annually affiliated with the nationally recognized 'Team Impact' program.
His tremendous body of work as a player, coach and athletic administrator has been recognized in the best way possible by Merrimack (1985), Danvers High (1990) and New England Basketball (2004), all of whom elected him into their respective Halls of Fame.
Strong Danvers roots
Everything Skinner accomplished came after he, as a young teen, dribbled his basketball from his Franklin Street home to the Maple Street court in downtown Danvers, where he played endless hours 365 days a year indoors and out with his brother Danny and buddies Chris Annis, Tom Powers, Dan Wilson and Tom Opie.
It was also the drive instilled by former Danvers and Salem State star Jay Veilleux that helped Skinner become a true player of distinction.
“I fell in love with the game of basketball,” Skinner said, making note of the obvious. “And it carried me through a long career I’m grateful to have experienced.
“Growing up in Danvers meant everything to me: the friendships, Coach John McGrath, and so much more. The town gave me a great start in life as a teenager (after his family moved here from Dudley when he was 13). Now, after 31 years, I feel my work at UMass Lowell has run its full course. I hope I’ve helped people along the way to appreciate the role sports can play beyond the fields and courts to value what sports can do for others.”
UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacqui Moloney hates to see Skinner step down.
“Dana has made a profound and lasting impact not only on the River Hawks athletic program, but on the university as a whole,” she said. “UMass Lowell is extremely fortunate to have had someone of Dana’s vision, commitment and competitiveness at the helm of our athletic department and as a member of our leadership team during such a transformative era. We are thankful for all that he has accomplished.”
Two quotes have helped Skinner create a magnificent legacy as a leader of young athletes. “My father Bruce was a plumber who always reminded me that example is everything,” Dana remarked. “And I’ve always kept in mind what John Killilea, the Celtics assistant coach under Tommy Heinsohn during their two championship seasons in the 70s, told me during my short stay with the Celtics. ‘Just because it’s easy for you, doesn’t mean it’s easy.’ Those two truisms helped me deal with people, young and old, all these years.”
Skinner has more he wishes to accomplish. One ambition is to enjoy more time with his family — wife Keiko, his college sweetheart, and children Alex, 28, an associate admissions director at alma mater Brooks School and starting a Master’s degree program at the University of Pennsylvania in September; and daughter Abigail, a Boston University Law School student.
He will settle in at Endicott College in the fall and teach the theory and practice of coaching in the Sports Science and Management department. Skinner will always stay connected to UMass Lowell, but he's also hoping to re-engage with his alma mater, Merrimack College.
“I hope now that I can support the next generation of young students as they seek their passion in the world sports,” he said.