Monday, December 17, 2007

Mario Danelo Unveiled On Monday

Mario Danelo's Parents Are Greatly Honored By the Unveiling of Artist Mike Sullivan 's Mural and Hope Students Will Be Inspired to Punt Their Way to Their Dream
By Diana L. Chapman

Had USC kicker Mario Danelo dropped by at the large ceremony in his honor on Monday where the unveiling of his mural took place, his friends and relatives agree, he would have been clueless about all the fanfare.

It wasn't his style, explained his longtime friend, Kathleen Budar, who described Mario as a friendly, "goofy" guy who enjoyed humor and friendship more than anything else -- and didn't take much to praise.

So perhaps he was there in spirit when his parents, Joe and Emily, pulled the rope to unveil the mural -- and absolutely nothing happened. There was a slight pause. The cardinal-colored drape covering it, Mario's #19, refused to budge bringing a lot of laughter to the audience in attendance. Shawn Talbott, a certified sports official, joked it was time to move to "plan B" and had a piece of machinery that toddled USC Football Coach Pete Carroll and Mario's parents up to the towering 8 X 12 mural. This time, they pulled off the drape successfully.

Now that was much more Mario's style. He would have liked that the microphone kept going in-and-out and that the drape refused to come down -- and that nothing after all was perfect -- especially when it' s about him.

Those who knew him said Mario's interest would have been piqued more by what could be done for other San Pedro High students at his former school where he played linebacker. In his later and short but powerful career, he only made it to USC after working diligently with his father, a former NFL kicker, as "a walk-on," where he became one of the colleges a record-breaking placekicker.
Instead of interest in himself, Mario would probably have been more pleased by the scholarship that will be provided in his name to a "walk on" athlete who will receive this award in his honor -- and will be voted on by the very teammates that played with him.
As this community approaches the one year January anniversary of Mario's death where he slipped and fell about 120 feet down the cliffs of San Pedro at Point Fermin Park -- in an area he grew up and treaded from the time he was a youngster -- the survivors wanted to do something special to honor him. But the two prominent figures who brought this all together was the artist, Mike, and Shawn Talbott, who engineered the plan with Los Angles Unified School District.
His parents both said they were deeply touched and honored by what was done for their son.
"Mario was so driven," his mother, Emily, told me at the event. "He wasn't offered a scholarship, but he never gave up. Mario is pretty simple. He'd just be so overwhelmed by all of this. He was just living his dream. When he said this, he meant it."
Said his father, Joe, "For Mike and Shawn to do this, it's just very personal. It means a lot to our family. But for Mario, he just could careless about fanfare. He was a real low key kid. He just wanted to go out and play."
At the behest of USC officials, Mike Sullivan painted a remarkable mural of Mario kicking in rich colors of burgundy and cobalt blue -- and he did it all for free in the hopes that students at San Pedro High would be inspired by Mario's attitude of "livin' the dream." But the real irony was when the artist accidentally met Shawn Talbott, the two of them were able to hatch the plan to bring the entire event to a reality -- working with the bureaucratic Los Angeles Unified School District.
The mural was installed Saturday near San Pedro High School's flagpole -- a beautiful specimen of Mario kicking from the artist's point of view -- a view the artist witnessed in person when he went to watch the kicker at practices as well as games. The artist has gained prominence in sports circles with his unusual ability and flare to capture images of athletes and has done many murals, including one of football player Pat Tillman.
Among those attending Monday's event were former USC running back Anthony Davis, USC Football Coach Pete Carroll, Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn, former USC quarterback Paul McDonald, now a gamecaster, and many of Mario's teammates.
About 100 plus folks attended an event that was forged in tragedy, but gained hope in the spirit that Mario's hard work -- and diligence -- would inspire but also teach them all that taking care of each other -- whether in or out of the Trojan family -- was not just important, but a must in life.
Speaking to the audience, USC's football coach suggested that the loss of Mario united his team so intensely that when they head to the Rose Bowl, Mario will probably be the biggest reason the team will win -- because Mario's spirit will be there kicking for them.
"It reminds us to cherish our lives so much...and Mario taught us all that," the coach said. "All of us are so lucky and fortunate to be here. We are taking Mario with us to the Rose Bowl...and he'll be kicking through someone."
Besides the USC scholarship, both the artist and Shawn --a former USC center and long snapper who had a special interest in Mario's underdog career -- agreed to launch a scholarship for San Pedro High, in which a football player will receive a scholarship for all their college books for the entire four years -- and a new student will be selected each year.
Perhaps this story is best wrapped up by one of his friend's and USC teammates, who grew close to the player in the four years they were together.
The sentiment that his teammate Will Collins stated to those attending the event, was simple. Mario, he said, was "living his dream" which was a comment the kicker made routinely. His teammates are now taking this seriously and "have taken it to heart."
That same statement has been plastered all over the locker rooms, the player said, and imparts them with what Mario would probably want them to do the most.
"I love you guys," the player said -- without a drop of embarrassment . That's probably what an understated Mario would have wanted to hear the most.

--To order lithographs of the mural to support the scholarship, call 213-740-4155 or send checks to the Mario Danelo Scholarship Fund, Attention Don Winston, USC, 3501 Watt Way, Los Angles, CA 90089-0602. Make checks available to the Mario Danelo Scholarship Fund.
--Visit the artist's other works at
--To purchase T-shirts done in honor of Mario, visit BOCA Activewear on Sixth Street in downtown San Pedro or call Shawn Talbott for orders at (310) 683-3723.