Carmel Catholic High School is grieving as news of the loss of a wrestling coaching legend and student favorite sparked tears and reflection this week.
Joseph Scordino, 61, spent Thursday teaching business classes just like any other day. He had his oxygen tank by his side to help him control his emphysema and monitoring tools to track his diabetes.
On Friday, Scordino didn’t show up for work and didn’t call in sick. The circumstances immediately raised concerns at the school. Later in the day, an associate of Scordino’s went to his home in Grayslake and found the former wrestling coach dead.
“It’s horrible,” school spokeswoman Dawn Janich said. “Everything was in such an uproar Friday. He was very, very sick, but it was a shock to everybody.”
Janich often would see Scordino struggle to breathe as he navigated the five steps leading out of the school at the end of the day. Scordino just recently stepped down as the school’s wrestling coach because of his health problems, but he continued to teach.
As a head wrestling coach, Scordino was one of the founding fathers of wrestling in the Suburban Catholic Conference when he taught at St. Francis High School in Wheaton. Scordino went on to coach wrestling at Carmel for 34 years. He then became one of the inaugural hall of fame inductees for the East Suburban Catholic Conference in 2006.
Scordino was known at Carmel for having a stern but loving personality. He didn’t tolerate slacking off, especially by athletes. His students spent Friday writing reflections of their time learning from Scordino.
“I cannot tell you how upset all the students were,” Janich said. “It was very heartwarming to see how loved he was at the school.”
Janich said she’s spoken with Bob Kuykendall, the current wrestling coach, about Scordino’s death. Kuykendall was Scordino’s assistant coach for much of his career.
“He told me that he had really thought a lot about how it happened and decided it’s the best it could’ve been,” Janich recalled. “He said Joe would’ve hated retirement. This school was his life.”
Janich said there is no doubt that was true when you consider how Scordino still came to work everyday despite his failing health.
“The kids were Joe’s reason for living,” Janich said. “The reflections the kids wrote were so moving. When reading them, it really showed the kids got how he cared for them so much. Who among us wouldn’t want to go out like that?”
Janich said she’s sure the school will have some sort of memorial event. Kristan Funeral Home in Mundelein is handling the arrangements, but specifics won’t be available until Tuesday when Scordino’s family arrives in town.