Donajkowski to lead Alpena High cross country program
ALPENA — After years of serving as an assistant coach, Joe Donajkowski will finally get a chance to lead a program himself.
Alpena High School recently announced that Donajkowski will take the reins of Alpena’s cross country program this fall. Donajkowski succeeds Joy Bullis, who led the Wildcats for nine seasons.
“I’m excited. We have a pretty solid team,” Donajkowski said. “A lot of returners and some talented freshmen coming up. I’m looking forward to a fun-filled season.”
Donajkowski has been the distance coach for Alpena’s track teams for many years and coached alongside Bullis as his children competed for the Wildcats.
In nearly 40 years of working with North Eastern Michigan Rehabilitation and Opportunity Center, Donajkowski has spent his career helping individuals gain necessary life skills to be able to work.
Donajkowski sees a lot of parallels between his job and coaching, where teaching athletes how to train and compete the right way often yields successful results.
“I’ve been both the boys and girls distance coach, so I know the kids real well,” Donajkowski said. “As my kids became more interested (in running), it became more of a passion of mine.”
Bullis — who joined Alpena’s track program in 2007 and the cross country program in 2008 — will finally get a chance to relax. In addition to nine seasons as cross country coach, Bullis has spent several seasons as Alpena’s girls track coach.
She has also resigned from her position as track coach, and plans to focus on spending more time with her family, including watching her kids compete in sports.
“At first it was really hard. When you build a program for so long, you hate to leave,” Bullis said. “I’m looking forward to getting the biggest bleacher seat I can find.”
Under Bullis’ and Donajkowski’s tutelage, the Wildcats have sent more than a dozen runners to the cross country state finals since 2012. Twice, Alpena sent its boys team to the state finals, in 2016 and 2018. In that nine-year span, an Alpena runner has earned all-state honors 10 times.
Alpena has sent several runners to the collegiate level during that time as well, something Bullis said she’ll remember most about her time as coach.
“I’m proud of how many kids we were able to send on to college,” Bullis said. “When you have athletes that get to the collegiate level, you know we’ve done something right.”