Saturday, December 15, 2007

Artist Mike Sullivan, left, and Shawn Talbott, who helped pull together the ceremony to remind San Pedro High students that they too have a chance to make it -- but even more so, to take care of each other. Below (left): The mural is being installed on a Saturday afternoon and right, the USC shirts worn by alumni and teammates to honor Mario.

"Livin' the Dream” – Mario Danelo’s Short and Powerful Life Continues on in a Mural with Hopes to Influence Students to Work Toward Success and Watch Out for Each Other

By Diana L. Chapman

Mario Danelo beat the odds in the world of football drama.
Considered too small to play first division in college football, Mario, and his dad, Joe, a former NFL kicker worked intensely while he attended El Camino College to perfect the art of kicking so the former San Pedro High School linebacker could have a shot as a USC “walk-on.”
It was there, Mario met with success – and became USC's best kicker – a prominent player who befriended hundreds and “would light up a room” when he walked in.
But that was until tragedy struck – and on a cool January evening this year where the 21-year-old slipped off the local cliffs perched over the sea at Point Fermin. This was an area he was born and raised in and probably believed he knew how to navigate as well as punting a football. His death rippled throughout our town – and perhaps all of Los Angeles, because for so many, he was “livin’ the dream," as he liked to say, and his loss was—and still is-- excruciatingly painful.
And now there’s a message that those who loved, admired and worked with him want to leave behind at San Pedro High School – so that Mario’s death will not be in vain. On Monday at 10 a.m. near the high school’s flag pole, the unveiling of 8 X 12 foot mosaic mural – of #19 kicking his way to his dreams – will be shown to the public for the first time; his parents, Joe and Emily, will be honored with its unwrapping. The public is invited.
USC football Coach Pete Carroll and most of the USC team is expected to attend. Prints of the mural will be sold for $250 to pay for a full USC scholarship awarded to a player that the team itself will select as the best “walk-on” athlete since Mario.
The hope by those involved in the event is that students will always remember that despite the odds, hard work can lead to extreme success – but more than that, they want students to remember to watch out and take care of each other and to remember that they are not invincible.
"The whole idea is something tragic happened and the whole lesson for kids is this...," said Shawn Talbott, a former USC center and long snapper and now a certified NCAA and CIF sports official. "If we are out with friends and we want to enjoy ourselves that we take a step back and take stock of the situation. And that we watch out for each other."

Artist Mike Sullivan, who volunteered materials and his time to make the painting, also sees it as a way to paint a bright future for students. His dream is that when they see Mario's towering mural, they will see their own potential for future success. Mike, a well-known artist in sports circles, has painted many murals of athletes, including Pat Tillman, who gave up a professional football career and later his life to fight for his country after the terrorist attacks.

“I want kids who don’t know what they want to be, to see this,” explained Mike, a former high school football player, as he watched workers hammering in individual tiles for the mural on Saturday -- another donation in this ceremony from Doug West, who owns the D.W.C.C. , a tile and stone company in Gardena. “It’s a good thing to see someone at your school, with the same teachers and the same facilities, in life has made it.”
The beautiful ruby, golden, cobalt-blue mural – took Mike days to paint. He undertook the endeavor at the behest of USC's requests from Don Winston, associate athletic director, and Mike Garrett, the college's athletic director.

But the entire dream to build the mural at the high school fell into the exact place when the artist accidentally bumped into Shawn at a sports restaurant, Phil Tranis, in Long Beach.
That accidental meeting brought this entire event to fruition, when Shawn – a CIF and NCCA coach, told the artist he could help clear the bureaucratic path and work with the many contacts he had to make the event a reality.

Both Shawn and Mike had been impressed with Mario's career, the artist even going out of his way to watch him at practices and Shawn's interest and pride in the kicker was so intense that when his wife called him with the tragic news, she first instructed him to pull over the car.
“My wife called me and told me to pull over to the side of the road,” recalled Shawn, who lives in Torrance. “I cried. It was horrible. That kid could light up a room. He was a kid that all of San Pedro could be proud of.’
On Monday, that pride should be apparent as scores of dignitaries and players are expected to show up for the event. San Pedro High School was a “100 percent,” behind the effort, Shawn said, and the family seems to be pleased with the final painting. They, however, have yet to see the mural that was being installed on Saturday.

But since this partnering, not just the USC scholarship was established. Another scholarship grew out of the partnership sparked by that coincidental combination of the artist and Shawn meeting. A San Pedro High School assistant principal had asked Shawn if they couldn’t do something for the high school students too.
That’s when both Shawn and Mike agreed to establish a “book” scholarship in which one football player each year that goes off to college will be selected to have their college books purchased for all four years of their education.
And that scholarship, like the mural that towers at San Pedro High School, will live on year after year after year – another echo of Mario’s short and powerful life.

To purchase the litho print, contact USC at 213-740-4155 or 213-740-1306 or mail a check to: the Mario Danelo Scholarship Fund, Attention Donn Winston, USC, 3501 Watt Way, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0602. Make checks payable to the Mario Danelo Scholarship Fund.
To see more work by Artist Mike Sullivan, go to