Cardone ready to retire as director of athletics
When a Freeport Senior High School winger crashed into North Hills' 5-11, 175-pound goalkeeper, Wayne Carney, during a varsity soccer game this past season, the collision was so fierce that the Freeport player had to be whisked away in an ambulance.
Later that evening, Carney took it upon himself to contact the Freeport player at the hospital to see how he was doing and wish him a speedy recovery.
That's when Dan Cardone of Ross Township knew his hard work as the North Hills School District's director of athletics and activities was making a difference.
Now, after more than 20 years in this position, Cardone is preparing to retire, effective June 30.
During his tenure, Cardone oversaw the administration and management of all 41 athletic programs at the junior high and senior high schools and helped the district win Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League, or WPIAL, championships in several sports, including football, softball, cross country, lacrosse and golf. He helped make possible the renovation at the Martorelli Stadium and Athletic Complex, the addition of a 1,400-seat gymnasium at the junior high school and the creation of a girls' softball complex at McIntyre Elementary School.
He initiated the North Hills School District Community Athletic Recreation Program, which allows Ross and West View residents to participate in fitness classes and utilize the district's facilities. And for six years, he served as a WPIAL representative in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, or PIAA.
“More than that, he was a champion of good sportsmanship,” said WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley of Ohio Township. “He was all about promoting the good that comes from interscholastic athletics and the value of leadership and fair play.”
“We spend so much time on the physical aspect of sports and not enough time on the mental aspects,” Cardone explained.
“We tell kids about leadership but we don't give them the means to lead; we award kids by naming them team captain, but what does that mean? There aren't many good role models at the higher levels. We see professional athletes acting out over and over again.
“But when you respect authority and you show character, success will follow, on the field and off. Years down the road, you won't remember the score of the game, but you'll learn that when you fall down, you have to get back up. And when you get back up, you shake your opponent's hand to show your respect for their good effort.”
Or, in Carney's case, you call an opposing player to show your empathy after an on-field collision.
In 2005, Cardone launched the Student Athlete Leadership Academy, a one-day leadership seminar that teaches skills involving leadership, integrity and sportsmanship to more than 250 student-athletes annually. In 2009, he initiated the yearly WPIAL Sportsmanship Summit, which has taught thousands of student-athletes lessons about respecting the game and each other.
Such emphases and initiatives helped Cardone earn numerous distinctions and awards in addition to the North Hills School District being named a seven-time winner of the PIAA's statewide sportsmanship award and being honored as an All-American Sportsmanship School by the Institute of International Sport.
Cardone began his career as a social-studies teacher and worked at Seton-La Salle, North Catholic and Indiana Area high schools for a cumulative 17 years. He has coached varsity basketball, baseball and football and won conference titles with both Seton-La Salle and Indiana Area high schools as head football coach.
He also coached football at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pa., and even helped the Pittsburgh Steelers as a part-time scout.
“I was fortunate enough to work at every level,” he said.
“After a while, I began wondering what it would be like to coach the coaches.”
He decided to step outside the classroom for good in 1992, when North Hills School District officials began searching for an athletic director.
“I never felt that I was giving up teaching altogether,” Cardone explained. “As an athletic director, I still had ample opportunities to write articles, speak at seminars and impart my experience to others. Once you're a teacher, you're always a teacher.”
North Hills Superintendent Patrick J. Mannarino said replacing Cardone will be difficult.
“He celebrated triumphs big and small by inviting kids down to his office for bagels or pizza. He wrote personal thank-you notes to kids and opposing coaches alike,” said Mannarino, 40, of Beaver Falls. “He was always milling around the hallways between classes to talk with the students walking by.”
Cardone's initial retirement plans include spending more time in his backyard, which boasts a bocce court and an authentic Italian outdoor pizza oven.
“Next fall will be the first year since first grade that I haven't had to follow the same schedule,” he said with a smile. “I'm just going to relax and see what opportunities come my way. You know what they say: ‘If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.'”
Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.