Mark Nardone Would Want Us to Keep On, Keeping On
WHEELING — Nick Nardone stood in a light drizzle, hugging seemingly every person as they exited the J.B. Chambers Performing Arts Center at Wheeling Park High School on Monday. The middle of Mark and Susie Nardone’s three children, Nick has recently taken on the role of family spokesperson.
As each individual paid their respects, it became obvious that nothing could wipe the ear-to-ear smile from Nick’s face, a true paradox on the day that his father, the former football coach and assistant athletics director, Mark, was remembered fondly during a 2-hour celebration of life that brought equal parts laughter and tears for the more than a couple hundred attendees, many of whom were decked out in ‘Team Nardone’ shirts.
“Of course we had to do it here for him,” Nick said. “He loved this place with everything he had.
“He was a teacher. He was a coach. He was a friend. He was mentor and a father not only to me, my sister and my brother, but to everybody.
“To see all these people here — coming from everywhere, too — is just awesome.”
But back to that smile.
As most know, Mark suffered from ALS or as it is more commonly known, Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s a nasty affliction that makes a person a prisoner of he or she’s own body. Though Mark showed grace and dignity in the face of a disease that takes exactly those same things away, it’s also difficult for family and friends to watch helplessly while it refuses to relent.
“He never complained during the whole process. Sometimes I felt like I was more down than he was and he was the one dealing with it all,” Nick said. “That was just him.
“Seeing him weak and having to help him get out of bed and use the bathroom and stuff, that was hard. But it’s something I had to do, though.”
The outpouring of love and support was overwhelming for the Nardones during Mark’s 18-month battle. It helped in the grieving process, which because there are no survivors of ALS, is already farther along than most. That’s where Nick Nardone’s smile came from. On Christmas morning, his dad was finally at peace.
“On Christmas I didn’t feel the sadness and the anger and the heartbreak because I expected it and he expected it,” Nick said. “I think the sadness, the anger and frustration came when he got diagnosed.
“Now it’s just kind of relieving and you’re almost happy, because it wasn’t him. He wasn’t living his life … he was living for us.
“He kept doing that and eventually it got to a point where he just couldn’t do it anymore.
“I’m happy he’s not suffering anymore.”
To know Mark Nardone was to be in the presence of a jokster. Always with a wisecrack at the ready, Mark had a serious side also. Later in life he became known for his motivational messages that were posted regularly on social media platforms. Many of those were shared Monday.
But the truly great thing about Mark, was he didn’t just talk the talk. He walked the walk, as several of his former students and players that were in attendance can verify.
“He lived it,” Nick said. “Everything he said was literally him.
“He had a lot of time to think about that stuff, so I am sure he meant it.”
At a time like now when hearts are heavy and heads are down, Mark, if he were here, would have none of it. In fact, he’d likely look you in the eyes, point out that finger like he was known to do, and say “You’ve got to keep on, keeping on.”
We’ll do that for you, Coach. But, man, are you going to be missed.
Every time I am watching a football game and someone breaks off a big play, I will think of you bemoaning the fact that you can’t give up “10-second touchdowns and win.”
I’m glad I got to know you, friend. May the weight benches, running courses and sun tan lotion be in abundance in Heaven.
It’s not goodbye. I’ll see you later, Mark.
Shawn Rine can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org