Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pergine's passion will not be forgotten

His voice was a little raspy, even sounded a bit crotchety at times. And his reputation of being rather hard-nosed and stubborn, well, it kind of preceded him.

But there was also the smile, the laugh.

And that heart … the heart of a giant man.

Nick Pergine, as simple as it may sound, believed in doing things the right way. More important, he did what he had to do – always offering to help whoever, whenever and wherever – to make sure things were indeed done the right way. It was his approach to life, an unwavering stance he took first as a young athlete, then as a husband and father, and later as a football official.

He was everything, absolutely everything, you wanted, and needed, in a friend.

So it was easy to understand the pain – the tugging of the heartstrings – felt by so many this week after learning Nick Pergine had lost his battle with cancer.

It was hard to believe that anything, even cancer, could get the best of Nick Pergine, the guy who played every single down of every football game like it was the last down, and the guy who worked relentlessly during every season and throughout every offseason, to protect the honor of the game for nearly 40 years as a football official.

If anyone recognized that drive it was Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker, who first met Pergine when he played for the Spring-Ford Marauders semi-professional football team back in the late 60s and early 70s.

“Nick was one of the most passionate people I have known,” Pennypacker said. “He took so much pride in his job as an official, then later as an assigner for the (Pioneer Athletic Conference). He wanted our league’s officials to be the best in the state, and I honestly think he succeeded in doing that.”

Pergine’s football career began as a youngster at the former St. Matthew and Conshohocken high schools. After serving four years with the U.S. Army, he played for the Marauders as well as for Iron Town, currently the Conshohocken Steelers. Later, he got into officiating, becoming a member of the PIAA’s Norristown Chapter of Football Officials. He worked hundreds of games, including several all-star and state championship games, and the Big 33 Classic.

And wearing a striped shirt and carrying a whistle on any field of play doesn’t always fashion friendships, especially with those outside the sidelines.

But Pergine’s credibility, and his reliability, did.

“Nick was the epitome of a sportsman in the sense that he believed in ethics and fair play,” said Gary DeRenzo, who worked with Pergine as the athletic director at Pottstown, Wissahickon and, for the last two years, at Pottsgrove. “He believed in the integrity of the game of football, and in the rules of the game.”

Pergine loved the game so much he started an officials clinic in Wildwood Crest, N.J.

“I never knew how much Nick did for officials until I spoke at one of his clinics down there,” Pennypacker explained. “It was unbelievable. He had over 100 officials from our area, and it wasn’t any weekend of leisure, either.

“Nick had the guys work on a makeshift football field, performing every skill they needed on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. I was amazed watching him teach other officials how to enforce a penalty, how to measure for a first down… And then they had to listen to speakers talk about every aspect of officiating, too. I was truly amazed at how much respect he commanded from other officials.”

Pergine earned the respect.

“He was a man of integrity,” Pennypacker said. “He said what he meant and meant what he said. He had that tough exterior most of the time, but he had a heart of gold all the time.”

Scott Reed was well aware of Pergine’s tough exterior when he played for St. Pius X. But he got to know just how genuine Pergine was when he became the head coach at Perkiomen Valley six years ago.

“I remember the first PAC-10 meeting I ever attended as a head coach,” Reed recalled. “It was the first time I talked to Nick as a coach, and I was actually very intimidated. He started talking about all the rule changes and points of emphasis.

“But after the meeting he congratulated me on being the new head coach at PV. Then he told me to keep my mouth shut because referees don’t want to hear from a head coach who looked like he hadn’t even hit puberty yet. He had a way of getting his point across in his own little way.”

Pergine’s ability to work with others, to get the best out of others, never ever went unnoticed.

“Nick was a man who loved sports, especially football, and young people,” Reed said. “He did what every single person asks of themselves and others – always give your best. I never once doubted we got anything but the very best from Nick.

“He put everything into being a great official, then an assigner. You could call him anytime, anywhere. We respected him for the way he handled his officials. He stood up and supported them like a father would stick up for his son in public. And when they made a mistake or messed up, they were held accountable … behind the scenes.”

“He was a great example for all of us, a mentor for all of us,” added veteran official Ricky Falcone. “Underneath that gruff exterior and voice was a stand-up, do-the-right-thing kind of man. Nick would do anything for you.”

On and off the field, too.

“Nick pulled no punches,” explained Tom Brady, another longtime official and friend. “Good or bad, he told you the truth, and told you to your face.

“He truly loved being the PAC-10 assigner, and truly being associated with everyone in that league. A lot of us are going to miss his words of wisdom.”

“Nick was one of a kind,” said Dave Speelhoffer, who worked alongside Pergine as an official and the under him in the PAC-10. “There’s now a great void in officiating and in the PAC-10 … and in my life.”

As well as in many other lives.

Few people in this area, or in the PAC-10 football neighborhoods, were aware how busy Pergine was away from the field. He was a volunteer at St. Gertrude RC Church in West Conshohocken, where he helped develop the school’s physical education department. He received beautification awards from the Upper Merion Township on several occasions for his other passion – working in the yard. And he even drove bus for special needs children.

“He loved to tell you stories about those kids,” Pennypacker said. “When he told you the stories, you could see how those kids touched his heart.”

“Those special needs students revered Nick,” DeRenzo added. “He could be as tough as the day is long, but he was also the first person to lend a hand to someone in need or someone less fortunate.”

Pergine’s wife of 44 years, Eleanor, always knew that. So did his four children – daughter Christina and sons Nicholas, William and Anthony.

“Many times we are judged by our peers based on their perceptions, however distorted they may be,” DeRenzo said. “But with Nick, what you saw is what you got. He was a straight-forward, look-you-in-the-eye man, the kind of man we can ill-afford to lose in our politically correct society today. His family knew what a gentleman he was, as did all the rest of us.”

“The PAC-10 lost a great friend, but more important we all lost a great person,” Pennypacker said. “Nick Pergine touched so many lives … on and off the football field.”



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