MIDDLETOWN ― The plan, Jerry Nardiello often told me, was for him to stay in Middletown for six months.
He was hired at the Middletown Journal on Aug. 10, 1947, shortly after the World War II veteran was discharged from the Air Force. Nardiello, a New York University graduate, served as a sports writer, sports editor and sports editor emeritus at the Journal for the next 61 years.
When he hired me in 1987, Nardiello, then 64, gave me advice: Don’t stay at the Journal long. Six months. One year at the max.
Apparently I didn’t listen. This is my 33rd year at the Journal-News, the first five as a sports writer working under Nardiello and with Tim Willis. What a blessed career I have had. Before starting at the Journal, I worked at the Dayton Daily News and Journal-Herald with three members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame: Si Burick, Ritter Collett and Hal McCoy.
Then I had the privilege of working under Nard, a member of the Butler County Sports Hall of Fame that he founded with Bill Moeller, Hamilton JournalNews sports editor. Nardiello also is a member of the Pigskin-Roundball Spectacular Gold Medal Club, Southwest District Athletic Board Hall of Fame and the Cincinnati Society of Professional Journalists.
In 2012, the scorer’s table at Wade E. Miller Gym — where Nardiello spent many Friday nights — was named in his honor.
He retired in 2008. He fell in love with Middletown, the readers of his daily “Off The Bench” column fell in love with him, and along the way he fell in love with a young woman at LeSourdsville Park.
Nardiello died recently, just days before his 98th birthday on Nov. 11 and weeks before he and Winnie would have celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
There is much I could write about Nardiello and how he went from being my boss to my dear friend after he retired. Nard quit driving after he nearly was killed in an accident. I became one of his designated drivers. We made countless trips to Meijer, Lowe’s and the Veterans Affairs medical center in Middletown.
He always needed something. A part for his lawn mower. Groceries. Someone to repair his hearing aids.
There was no better ambassador for the city than Jerry Nardiello, the New York native who never lost his thick accent or his slim waist.
Every time I covered a major sporting event an out-of-town sports writer always asked about Nard. He had that way with people. He was unforgettable.
He covered Ohio State, Miami University, the Reds and Bengals, but the Middies were his first love. Consider that Nardiello wrote about every Middie game, home and away, from 1947 to the late 1990s. He covered five of the school’s seven boys state boys basketball championships and chronicled every basket Jerry Lucas scored in high school during the 76-game winning streak and back-to-back state championships.
Lucas recently told me Nardiello wrote the first article on him when he was in junior high.
Nardiello and Lucas, separated by only 17 years, will be forever linked. When Lucas was in high school and every sports reporter in the country wanted to write a feature on him, they went through Nardiello. He also acted as the unofficial gatekeeper for Lucas when he was being recruited for college.
It was Nardiello who drove Lucas and John Havlicek to a high school all-star basketball game in Indiana. He said while the players were riding in the back seat they agreed to attend OSU.
He also covered numerous playoff and World Series games at Crosley Field and Riverfront Stadium. He was great friends with Joe Nuxhall. He was there for the birth of the Bengals in 1968 and covered Miami when Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian and Bo Schembechler walked the sidelines.
I remember one day when Nardiello was interviewing a coach on the phone. The call lasted maybe two minutes. When Nardiello stepped away from his desk, I glanced over at his scrap piece of paper. He took no notes.
Thirty minutes later, the column was filed.
He used a typewriter then a computer. Let’s just say the computer training didn’t go so well. Nardiello wasn’t a patient man and when he got frustrated, he just clicked the mouse continuously. Finally, the exasperated trainer set a special time for Nardiello.
Through it all, Nardiello never changed.
When The Journal’s office was located at First Avenue and Broad Street, he parked his car near the Middletown Public Library and jogged across the street and up the steps two at a time when into his 70s. The rest of us parked near the front door and took the elevator to the second-floor newsroom.
He wore clothes way past when they were fashionable. His favorite windbreaker was from the Cincinnati Stingers. He was a one-man time warp.