A 1964 graduate of Du Sable High School in Chicago where he played baseball and football, Donnie Gardner began playing softball in his church league when he was only twelve years old. During his career, he would go on to play and manage for 32 years in over 2100 games; he would win 56 championships and would be named manager of the year seven times with two of the top softball teams of his era – the Flamingos and the Flashes. During the early days of his career he played with the Huns, Royal Sportsmen and Westside Dodgers before joining the Flamingos in 1969, helping them to two important firsts: their first Metro Tournament Championship and an appearance in their first national tournament at Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He took over as manager of the Flamingos in 1971 and guided them to numerous titles and national honors, including metro championships and appearances at national tournaments in Dalton, Georgia and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He managed the Flamingos through 1978 when he made the heart breaking decision to resign as manager. In 1980, he formed the Flashes as player/manager and quickly led them to the Woodridge Metro title their first year. With the Flashes he had the chance to play in his fourth national tournament and manage in his third national, taking third place. In 1982, the Flashes won the Downers Grove Metro and played in the nationals at Aberdeen, South Dakota. In 1985 they placed second at Washington park and played in the “A” Nationals at Aberdeen. The next year they won the Washington Park tournament, and Donnie took his last trip to the nationals, playing at Mt. Prospect, Illinois. He gave up softball in 1990 to coach baseball and basketball. He also played with the Challengers, City of Chicago, Rollerball, the Senators, and the Demons. Donnie credits Pete Dawkins, Phillip Ghent, Bill Clark, and Joe Stratton as his biggest influences for playing and managing. He and his wife, Emma, have three children – Donnie Junior, Stephanie, and Christopher. They live on Chicago’s South Side.