Over the years and across the seasons, Mark Farina provided the soundtrack for Public League sports.
An impromptu meeting with a Chicago Public Schools sports official led to gigs announcing football, basketball, baseball and soccer at venues like Lane Stadium, Kerry Wood Field and Chicago State.
Farina worked his scheduled games at Lane in Week 9. Later that weekend of Oct. 23-24, he developed what he assumed was a bad case of flu. A few days later was hospitalized for COVID-19.
For a time, it appeared Farina’s health was improving. He posted on social media and reached out to friends.
But on Monday, Nov. 15, Farina died from COVID complications. He was 61.
Tributes poured in on social media and from those he worked with in CPS and beyond.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said former Taft boys basketball coach Jason Tucker, whose games Farina worked before the pandemic.
The Eagles, like other teams, played an abbreviated spring season this year but without such usual trappings as a PA announcer.
“The guy was such a great guy,” Tucker added. “He was messaging me during the COVID season: ‘Hey coach Tucker, how many wins will you get? Can you win the White North?’ Just constantly supportive of everything we did.
“The kids loved him. He was made for that job: the voice, everything.”
Mickey Pruitt saw that when Farina approached him about announcing for CPS. Now the Deputy Director of Sports Administration, Pruitt then was a supervisor of football and several other sports.
At the time, CPS was looking for a PA announcer for football at Lane. “We listened to him, [and thought], ‘Oh, he can be pretty good,’” Pruitt said. “He was very personable, very likable.”
But there was more than the voice. Farina spent hours preparing for his announcing gigs, tracking down rosters from sometimes hard-to-reach coaches and putting together his own game notes.
His play-by-play was peppered with the kind of information one would hear on a broadcast: the teams’ recent results and upcoming games, scores and schedules from around CPS and whatever other nuggets his research uncovered.
That grinder approach to a part-time gig came naturally to Farina, who had a quintessential Chicago biography. He graduated from Steinmetz on the Northwest Side. His dad Lou served as an alderman and his cousin Dennis was a Chicago cop before becoming one of the more respected actors of his generation.
Farina went to Columbia College before moving on to Illinois State, where he graduated with a degree in communications. He played 16-inch softball, worked for the city for a time and picked up a variety of PA gigs.
Dominic Scianna, who now works in CPS sports communications, met Farina at Columbia 40 years ago and was a softball teammate. They’ve been fast friends ever since.
“When I met him he had this big. booming voice,” Scianna said. “He was certainly the life of the party. He was a larger-than-life figure, making people laugh, telling silly jokes.”
Longtime Chicago Bandits softball PA announcer Doug Meffley recalled a day when Farina filled in for him during the opener of a day-night doubleheader.
“He then waited around after that game was over just to meet me in person and shake my hand,” Meffley said. “I was so touched that he took time out from his family and whatever else he had going on just to meet me. Seems like par for the course for him.”
Farina’s interests went beyond sports. He also wrote a book about his father-in-law’s World War II experiences: “Casey & the Flying Fortress: The True Story of a World War II Bomber Pilot and the Crew.”
But perhaps he’ll be best remembered for all the Public League games he called.
“He grew up in CPS,” Pruitt said. “He looked out for the CPS students. He had the passion.”