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Butler a home away from home for DiMartino

| Monday, Dec. 9, 2013, 3:21 p.m.

Butler's hockey team believes it has one of the most close-knit groups in the PIHL.

While there's no statistics to measure a team's cohesion, specifically, the Golden Tornado players constantly talk about their bond and sense of team.

That hockey brotherhood was strong enough to keep Joseph DiMartino from moving away before his senior year. DiMartino was born in Nashville, but moved with his family to Butler when he was a toddler. He delayed a return trip to the Music City for at least another year.

His father, Jeff, received a job opportunity in Nashville and returned there last year. His mother, Denise, and brother, Michael, remained in Butler to prepare their house for sale. Once it sold, Denise and Michael headed to Nashville in August to join Jeff, while Joseph moved in with family friends for the school year.

It's a choice Joseph hoped he wouldn't have to make right before his senior year of high school.

“I never expected it to be anything like this until last summer when my parents said we might have to move,” Joseph said.

“That was a pretty tough decision. I didn't know what to do. I just decided I'd stay up here. I didn't want to have to come down to Nashville just for one year.

“My mom said it was OK as long as I could find a family that would offer to take me in and let me live with them the whole year.”

That's when Dennis and Jenn Walters stepped in and offered Joseph a chance to stay at their house for the year.

Their son, Mack, and Joseph have been friends. Mack Walters also plays hockey at Butler.

“This is hard for everyone, but we're trying to make the most out of the situation,” Denise said. “We preferred that he wanted to come with us, but we left it up to him.”

Denise said she and her husband understood why Joseph didn't want to leave.

“He wanted to play hockey, and that was a big part of it,” she said. “We let him make that choice. We didn't want to force him to come down.”

Denise said Joseph seems to be doing well.

“Several families offered to let him stay with them so he could finish out high school and play hockey at Butler,” she said. “The Walters right away offered. It was really nice. They've really taken him into their family.”

Denise said she doesn't worry about Joseph being so far away.

“I know he will be well taken care of. It's been a big responsibility, and we're so thankful they've done that,” she said.

Jeff, who played high school and college hockey and coached hockey at Butler, understands his son's reasoning.

“If I was faced with the same situation, I am sure I would have done the same thing,” he said. “There is high school hockey down here, but not of that caliber. He put too much time and effort into it not to finish up there.

“All the parents and the team have been tremendous. The support we're getting from everybody is unbelievable.”

The DiMartinos have two college-aged daughters who remain in the local area as well. Rebekah, 20, is a student at Slippery Rock University, while Alexandra, 23, attends the UPMC Shadyside School of Nursing.

“I see them both pretty often,” Joseph said. “Alex goes to all of my games.”

Being away from his parents and younger brother has been tough for Joseph. But, he got to spend a week with them in Nashville over Thanksgiving.

“I miss them a lot. The most I ever spent apart from them was maybe 10-15 days before this,” he said. “It was really good to go down there.”

Alexandra and Rebekah were unable to join Joseph in Nashville this time because of their work schedules, but all three will head to Tennessee later in the month for the holidays.

“That'll be very nice,” Denise said. “It was not ideal timing to move down here, but, with four kids, it's kind of hard to get the right timing. I think they'll all be back down here eventually.”

Jeff and Denise are trying to work out some free time to return to Butler to watch some of Joseph's games as well.

“We watched the PIHL Game of the Week online when Butler played,” Jeff said. “Joe Rothbauer does a nice job recording all the games on video. He sends us DVDs of the games and puts stuff on Facebook for us to look at as well.”

The unique living situation has not impacted Joseph on the ice. He led Butler in goals (6) and was tied for second in points (9) through the team's first seven games.

“I know he put a lot of work in during the summer,” Jeff said. “It's really showing.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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