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Old 12-13-17, 12:54 AM
CleBen CleBen is offline
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Benedictine football alum's inspiring fight against ALS

From the Lake County News Herald -




Benedictine football: Bengals community supporting graduate battling ALS


Andy Natale, shown during Benedictine’s game against Columbus Watterson this season, delivered a pregame speech to the Bengals. Debbie First — Benedictine High School


By Jay Kron, For The News-Herald
POSTED: 12/12/17, 12:15 PM EST | UPDATED: 14 HRS AGO 0

Some days are more challenging than others for Andy Natale. Always dedicated to his rehabilitation exercise regimen, there are days that walking comes easier, other days he has to move a little more slowly.


Natale, a 53-year old graduate of Benedictine and resident of Bainbridge Township, was diagnosed with ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in November 2016. For a man who has worked hard all his life and encountered so much success — an award-winning career as an attorney in construction law, a Hall of Fame CYO football coach, and a member of two of Benedictine’s state championship football teams — it is a cruel and unfair twist of fate.

Take the time to talk with Natale, a dark-haired man with a goatee, an easy smile, and a peaceful demeanor, and it’s hard to imagine anyone more equipped to meet the challenge this diagnosis presents. From his days as an undersized center for the Bengals, Natale took the life lessons he learned from legendary coach Augie Bossu, and made them a part of his foundation. As a man who lives his life for others, and pours passion into everything he does, and has an unshakable faith in God’s plan for his life, even a difficult circumstance like this one hasn’t kept him down.

BENEDICTINE YEARS

Natale grew up in Lyndhurst. He followed his older brother to high school, and the football team, at Cathedral Latin. After his freshman year of 1978-79, Cathedral Latin closed. Natale joined his friends over at Latin’s arch rival, Benedictine. As a nervous, 120-pound sophomore reporting for summer football workouts at his new school, Natale was surprised to be greeted, by name, by Bossu.


“Augie Bossu was an amazing coach,” Natale said in a recent interview at his home. “He and the whole Benedictine coaching staff had a way of pulling things out of you that you didn’t know you were capable of doing.”

Bossu, a 170-pound guard at Notre Dame, had a soft spot for smallish linemen, and saw something in the quiet sophomore. Benedictine’s starting center was unavailable to play due to an illness, and Bossu asked Natale if he was up for giving center a try. Natale took the position and ran with it. Despite incurring a shoulder injury, he never gave up his spot. Benedictine, despite an offensive line that was small across the board, went on to win the Division III state title in 1980, and moved up to Division II and won that title in 1981.

“Andy was a tough kid, and he played a demanding position,” said Dave Kornatowski, the starting nose guard on those Bengals teams. “I was a nose guard, and in practice I had to go against Andy. I knew what a tough kid he was. He would get stingers in his shoulder quite often, but he never missed any time. He played center at 155 pounds, in days when teams employed five-man defensive fronts regularly. You have to be tough to do that.”

Natale held his own against a variety of opponents lined up against him. Some were smaller, quicker wrestling types. Others were massive space-eaters, like Cardinal Mooney’s Bob Maggs. Maggs, who went onto play at Ohio State and for the Houston Oilers, was one of the featured players on that Mooney team along with Bo Pelini and one of the Stoops brothers.

With Natale making the line calls and battling with the twice-his-size Maggs, the Bengals knocked off the Cardinals in a snowy state semifinal at the Akron Rubber Bowl before going on to beat Trotwood-Madison in the title game.

“Andy was quick, and as center he made all of our line calls,” said Greg Roscoe, who lined up next to Natale at right guard. “We had big splits along our line, and nose guards would always try to shoot the gap. Andy had to take care of that.”

Natale learned to be disciplined and driven and how to believe in himself from Bossu. More than anything, as he put it, he learned that life, “Isn’t about you. It’s about what you can do to help others. In doing that, an unstoppable team is created.”

Natale took those lessons to heart and they have served him well ever since.

COLLEGE LIFE

Natale earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Dayton, and his law degree from Cincinnati. Because he had torn his rotator cuff as a junior at Benedictine (but played through the injury through high school), and due to his smaller stature, he knew his football playing days were over. That door closed, but another opened-a career as an attorney.

LEGAL CAREER

“What I learned at Benedictine is that the more you care, and the more passionate you are in what you do, and use what talents you have to the best of your ability, good things happen,” Natale said.

His reputation as an attorney who cared about his clients and their issues allowed him to have success that led to his becoming a partner at the Frantz Ward law firm, with a specialization in construction law.

He has been a celebrated author and lecturer, and has earned numerous lawyer-of-the-year and other awards for his profession. Natale recently left Frantz Ward to join the Cleveland-based Hahn Loeser firm.

A TRUE CALLING

When Natale’s son Tim joined the St. Rita (Solon) football team in sixth grade, Andy joined the coaching staff as an assistant, eventually ascending to head coach. Tim enrolled at Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin when he reached ninth grade, and played one year of football for the Lions and Coach Byron Morgan before injuring his Achilles, severely enough that he would not be able to continue playing football.

Not wanting to see his son depressed, and knowing how much he loved the game, Andy invited Tim to join the coaching staff at St. Rita. Tim helped coach the St. Rita team until he joined the army after high school.

Andy took what he learned from Bossu at Benedictine, and used virtually the same playbook at St. Rita. He employed what he described as a “very simple offense and a very simple defense.” He focused on fundamentals, and worked with his players to master the simple plays and formations. They mastered them enough that Natale has been able to win multiple CYO championships in his 15 years at St. Rita, and this year was named to the CYO Hall of Fame.

“I never defined myself by what I had done in my professional life,” Natale said. “Coaching has always been the most rewarding and life-respecting thing that I’ve done, along with raising my sons.”

Tim, now 25, has rejoined the coaching staff at St. Rita, and with his father’s illness, has taken over the head coaching reins, while Andy has remained as an assistant, as much as health permits.

“If you could tell him to pick one award to hold onto for the rest of his life, he would keep his CYO award and throw his legal awards away,” Tim Natale said. “He didn’t get a single dollar to coach. He did it because he relished the opportunity to impact the kids’ lives.”

THE NATALE FOUNDATION

Natale launched the Andy Natale Foundation shortly after his diagnosis. He described it as an idea that had been ruminating for a while, but his health situation prompted swifter action.

“The primary mission is to advance the faith formation of young men, through athletics,” Natale said.

“The goal is to find funding for programs and athletics.”

With this foundation, Natale hopes to expose kids to life lessons and what it means to do something for someone else.

“The more we try to make ourselves happy, the less successful we are in finding happiness,” he said.

“The more you do for others, God rewards you, and you find more fulfillment.”

Natale said that the foundation’s primary purpose isn’t need-based, but for those young men who demonstrate principles that are fundamental to the Catholic faith. However, the foundation will make some need-based exceptions, and has helped many needy parishes and found funding to help the CYO and for the development of coaches.

IMPACT ON LOVED ONES

ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a nervous system disease that weakens muscles and impacts physical function, according to the Mayo Clinic. It involves progressive muscle weakness. It is considered rare, with fewer than 20,000 cases in the U.S. per year. Treatment can help, but the condition cannot be cured. It is known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease because it took the life of the New York Yankees’ Hall of Fame first baseman.

It isn’t fair for anyone to be afflicted with ALS, much less a man who has dedicated his life to helping others through his legal career and coaching CYO. The affect this has had on Natale’s wife, Missy, and sons, Tim and Dom, can’t be mitigated by any type of comfort, although the family is soldiering on the best it can.

“We like to think of ourselves as a resilient family,” Tim Natale said. “My Dad’s father dealt with a lot medically for a decade and a half. When (my Dad) was diagnosed, it was a tough blow. As tough as it may be, you have faith in God’s plan. But there’s days where it’s tough to see the way that it impacts his life and all of our lives.”

That concern for Andy’s well-being extends outside of his immediate family to his friends.

“I feel bad for him, I really feel terrible,” said Kornatowski. “Since I found out about this, he is the first person I pray for in our Rosary group.”

Because he is dedicated to his physical therapy and treatment, Natale is able to walk sometimes, albeit slowly. Other times he is confined to a wheelchair. Through it all, his remarkably peaceful demeanor and strong faith has carried him.

“Even with a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, I have no fear,” Natale said. “I’m at complete peace. I attribute that to my faith, and awesome faith, that I learned from Coach Bossu. When I first learned of my somewhat daunting diagnosis, I remember vividly thinking: ‘Have I done what God has asked me to do in my life?’ Right then the notification came that I was to be inducted into the CYO Hall of Fame. So that was confirmation to me. Once again, God’s grace always surrounds us. The signs are there, you just have to look.”

A SPECIAL MEETING

In March, Natale and his family went ahead with a long-awaited trip to Rome, even though Natale was at this time wheelchair-bound. Missy arranged for the family to receive an audience with Pope Francis through a church program. The family had no idea at the time, but the trip would take a special turn.

“My step-mom Missy coordinated the papal audience, which means you get to sit somewhere in the crowd of 40,000 to 50,000 people to see the pope,” Tim Natale said. “It takes hours to get there, and you have to go through all kinds of security. Our taxi driver, seeing my Dad’s condition and without being asked, checked to see if we could get a VIP entrance. The security guards let us through, and a gentleman in very regal attire came and asked if my Dad was disabled. He then had chairs set up for us right in the front row.”

Pope Francis came and greeted each of the Natale family members personally, and blessed each one of them. Andy Natale described the meeting with the pope as having “removed all my burdens and anxieties. I was completely at peace from that moment forward.”

“I’ve never seen my Dad so emotional,” Tim Natale said. “From that day forward, I’ve never seen him so peaceful.”

ADDRESSING THE BENGALS

Natale was asked to give a pregame speech to the Benedictine football team in Week 5 this season, before the Bengals took on Columbus Watterson. Natale, though wheelchair-bound, obliged.

“I told them to understand that what they do is very inspiring to people like me,” Natale said. “The way they approach their life, and the passion they show for what they’re doing, the way they persevere and work hard is uplifting. I told them to hold nothing back, that God made them to be champions, that they were made to excel, and to push themselves to do great things for other people.”

“I let them know that as I sat in that wheelchair with a disease that has no cure, that I had no regrets because the way I was taught to approach my life during my days at Benedictine, which is to have passion for everything you do. I told them to compete like you’ve never competed before, put yourselves out there, and you’ll be rewarded.”

Benedictine went on to defeat Watterson, 35-16. Natale’s pregame speech was recorded, and has been posted on YouTube.

A MAN WHO WON’T QUIT

“There’s not a day that goes by that I haven’t remembered what I learned at Benedictine,” Natale said. “I’ve endeavored to teach that to my sons and the young men that I have coached.”

Natale’s impact has resonated in all those he has helped, whether it was a client needing legal assistance, or a youngster trying to learn the game of football or in need of a positive role model. Like Jimmy Stewart’s character in the closing scene of the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, now that he is the one going through difficulties, all those that he helped or inspired haven’t forgotten.

“Andy is tenacious, a hard worker, a winner,” Kornatowski said. “Everything he put his mind to, it seems he did really good at. He went to the top of his profession as a lawyer, and became a Hall of Fame coach.”

Roscoe, who lined up next to Natale on Benedictine’s offensive line through two state championship seasons, has his old friend on his mind often these days.

“The thing that resonates the most to me is that he is at peace,” Roscoe said. “He was always a smart guy, he figured things out pretty quickly. He was a very empathetic person, and that made him perfect to be a CYO coach.”

Tim Natale related that it was his Dad that inspired him to make the most of himself, and spoke about how his relationship with his father changed over the years, as so often happens between fathers and sons.

“He’s my best friend,” Tim Natale said of his Dad. “We butt heads a lot probably because we’re so similar. We link on a wavelength that took me a long time to figure out. I think it’s when I joined the military, that’s when I realized my Dad was right, and it can be hard to admit that. You have to like what you do, and love the people you’re around, and surround yourself with good people. Now he and I have the time of our lives when we’re together, and you just can’t replace those memories.”

Tim Natale’s self-described aimlessness after high school and subsequent military career followed by his current profession as a behavioral therapist, was a change that was directly inspired by his father.

Tim Natale wrote a book on the topic, called ‘Reflections from the Man in the Mirror’, and the cover photo shows he and his father sitting on the bench at a CYO football practice.

“He has spent his life trying to give back for the opportunities that he’s been given,” Tim Natale said.

“Everything that he is and that he stands for comes from his family, and from Benedictine. You can’t beat someone that doesn’t quit. His attitude is everything. You just can’t knock him down.”

To donate to the Andy Natale ‘82 Scholarship Fund at Benedictine, contact Vice President of Advancement Chris Lorber at 216-421-2080, ext. 246, or Lorber@cbhs.edu.
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Old 12-13-17, 05:41 PM
Wildcat66 Wildcat66 is offline
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An true inspiration to the Bengal Nation and all who watch or play high school football.
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Old 12-15-17, 01:51 PM
Bengal Nation Bengal Nation is offline
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Andy is an incredible witness to life, perseverance and the Benedictine spirit! May Our Lord continue to bless him.
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