From the sports editor: Floriani was a good guy until the end

Bernie Floriani made Virginia’s basketball team as a walk-on after going there to play golf. Virginia sports information photo

Rick McCall got a call from Bernie Floriani the other day.

He was calling his old golf coach to say goodbye.

After seven years of valiantly battling ALS, the time had to come for Floriani’s suffering to end.

Bernie Floriani

“We said things to each other,” said McCall, the former Maple Dale pro. “I’ve never known anybody to have that (disease) — and such a nice guy like Bernie.”

Then, on Thursday, they turned off the ventilator that was keeping Floriani alive and he was gone.

Bernie Floriani was only 51 when he died on at his home in Gurnee, Ill. He leaves behind his wife, Christy, his kids, Kayla and Max, and no doubt a long list of friends.

Floriani, you may remember, was a two-time junior golf Delaware state champion (1985, ‘86) who helped fuel Dover High’s state dominance in the sport. But he was also a really good basketball player for the Senators who then somehow managed to make Virginia’s hoop team after coach Jeff Jones discovered him playing intramurals.

The gig even landed Floriani in the NCAA regional finals one year.

Floriani was pretty excited about the Cavaliers winning the national championship when I talked to him in April 2019. Given that most of his body didn’t work anymore, he said it was nice to think back to times when he was actually a good athlete.

“Winning the championship was awesome,” Floriani said at the time. “I do, I guess, lean on the fact that I was able to be part of Virginia basketball. Because I physically can’t do anything now, it’s helped me to be able to look back.”

In Illinois, Floriani coached lots of youth sports teams and was a member of his church’s board. He helped his brother, Brian, start Bernie’s Books — an organization that gets books in the hands of kids — in memory of their dad.

In other words, Floriani was a good guy.

Even when he knew he couldn’t beat ALS — “This crazy disease,” he called it — Floriani found peace with his ordeal.

“Every time I lost the ability to do something, you go through a grieving process,” said Floriani. “So I’ve been through about a million grieving processes. Just some guilt, some embarrassment and questioning God — I’ve been through all that.

“But I’ve found that for everything that’s been taken away from me, God has filled that with something good. Given the situation, I’m doing OK.”

As for McCall, he’ll remember the great, young golfer that Floriani was. The fact that he was also a nice guy made him truly memorable.

“It’s a shame,” said McCall. “The good guys always go first.”

Little League holding states

It looks like there will be a Little League baseball state tournament in Delaware this summer after all.

M.O.T. is slated to host the eight-team, double-elimination tourney starting on Aug. 18.

The eight squads — Milford, M.O.T., Capital/Midway, Naamans, Canal, Brandywine, Newark American and Newark National — are from the leagues that opted to hold shortened seasons after the coronavirus pandemic restrictions were eased in June.

Games will be played at 6 and 8:30 p.m. each night, concluding with the championship game on Aug. 25 at 6 p.m.

M.O.T. opens on Aug. 18 with a 6 p.m. contest against Canal while Milford plays Brandywine on Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. There won’t be any regionals held after the tourney.

Delaware has held a state tournament in Major League baseball every year since 1957. Newark National is the defending state champion.

History lesson I

One hundred years is a long time, of course.

But even a century isn’t so long ago that you can’t find connections stretching from that era to today.

For Betty Greco, the longtime Dover Little League volunteer, the flu pandemic of 1918 isn’t something she just learned about on the news lately.

Her father’s family was living in Philadelphia at the time and was especially hart hit by the pandemic, which killed anywhere from 17 to 50 million people worldwide.

Greco’s father lost his own dad and three siblings to the illness in a matter of only a few days. As the oldest of 12 children, he made four coffins for them.

So many people were dying of the flu that families could only lay their bodies by the curb, in front of their home, and wait for them to be picked up.

“I don’t even know where they were buried — I don’t know if there’s any record of that,” said Greco. “These were all stories that have come down through the family. That was a hard time.”

Not surprisingly then, Greco doesn’t have much patience for people who aren’t taking the current coronavirus pandemic more seriously.

“I don’t know if the younger generation realizes, because they’ve never gone through anything that involved this much of a loss of people,” she said. “Thank goodness it hasn’t come to what they went through (in 1918). … If you can wear a mask to help prevent this from spreading, why don’t you do it?”

History lesson II

Caesar Rodney High grad Duron Harmon took part in a virtual town hall to talk about voter registration and education.

Now a safety with the Detroit Lions, Harmon said something his mother told him when Barack Obama was elected president in 2012 really stuck with him.

Dawn Harmon is a teacher in the CR district.

“My mother, she sat me down and she explained the importance of voting, the ancestors that died — we’re talking about really died — who died on the streets for us to have this opportunity,” Harmon was quoted. “You got to think about it, 60, 70 years ago, my grandmother couldn’t vote. My great-grandmother who just passed, she couldn’t vote.

“Let’s not take it for granted because 50, 60, 100, 200 years ago, they had no shot,” Harmon said his mom told him. “So, I just, it’s my duty to vote for the ancestors who laid down their life for us to have this opportunity.”

History lesson III

Another longtime Dover resident, Jeff Reed, wanted to remind me of just how dominant Dover High’s baseball teams were from the late 1950s through the ‘60s.

In one memorable stretch, the Senators went 59-1.

Probably the biggest reason those teams aren’t talked about more is that there was no official state tournament back then.

“I think one of the secrets was Dover was the first town (in Delaware) to have Little League baseball,” said Reed. “We just had a lot of really good baseball players. It was amazing the team went through that (59-1 stretch).”