Will Mendo, a very successful golf coach and English teacher at Middle Township High School and a longtime lifeguard who touched a lot of lives, died Thursday, five days after he turned 56.
The Cape May resident retired from his coaching and teaching career in 2016 and in recent years enjoyed delivering for Tony's Produce, according to his obituary.
Mendo coached the Middle golf team from 2006 to 2016 and had a career record of 171-37. His teams had undefeated seasons, won Cape-Atlantic League championships and three South/Central Group II titles.
Dave Joslin, Middle's current golf coach, assisted for Mendo for three years.
"He was a mentor of mine, definitely," said Joslin, 39. "One thing sticks out: When I started assisting, I thought it was about winning golf matches and teaching kids how to play golf. But he said it was also about doing well in the classroom, dressing well and carrying yourself well and doing the little things well. He really helped to make them better golfers and better people."
One of those golfers was David Hicks, a three-time Press Golfer of the Year. Hicks' career record at Middle was 67-1-2 in head-to-head matches, and he helped Mendo's team go 16-0 during his senior year in 2015.
"It's sad news. There were a lot great memories," said Hicks, 23. "His passion and energy for life always shined forth. He was consistent day in and day out. I was fortunate to have him as a coach and English teacher and a mentor. And he was your friend, also.
"He wanted us all to succeed but also to enjoy the journey and the process. He said a lot of it was mental. He said if you're patient, determined and work hard the results would come."
Mendo's team went 19-0 in 2011 and finished No. 1 in The Press Elite 11 rankings. Mendo was chosen The Press Golf Coach of the Year that season. The Press Golf Player of the Year was Middle senior Alex Hicks, David's older brother.
Mendo was an all-around athlete at Lower Cape May Regional High School who graduated in 1983. He graduated from Richard Stockton College (now Stockton University) in Galloway Township in 1989. He began his teaching career at Lower Cape May Regional from 1989 to 1991 before beginning his Middle Township career.
He also was a member of the Cape May Beach Patrol from 1983 to 2005 and competed in many lifeguard competitions. A fast runner, he was a surf-dasher for the Cape May patrol (a runner in short beach races). He won the patrol's Lifeguard of the Year award in 1987.
Mendo also was an assistant coach for Middle Township football.
"It's shocking to all of us," Middle coach Frank Riggitano said. "You could see how much he meant to people by how much everyone was affected by it.
"Will ran seven miles a day. One day he put a helmet on and ran the option (at quarterback) at a practice, and he was as fast as anybody out there in his 40s."
Riggitano said Mendo wasn't yet a serious golfer when they first started to play the game.
"He used to use my clubs because we were both left-handed," said Riggitano, 59. "He took it like a job. He worked so hard at it and learned all the intricacies. It eventually became his job (as the coach), and he won a lot of matches and titles.
"He always took time to help people. The kids in his English classes loved him."
John O'Kane, who covered high school golf for The Press for several years, said that when he would attend a Middle match, Mendo would talk about golf for five minutes and then about life for a half-hour.
"He was a really good guy," said O'Kane, 38. "It's really sad. He'll definitely be missed.
"When you cover sports, there will always be certain coaches that you really like, and he was one of them. He would ask me how my family was doing. He went out of his way to support and promote his players."
Mendo loved to surf, ski and play softball. He dressed up as pirate Captain Kidd for nearly 30 years for Cape May's annual events such as the Fourth of July Parade and the Congress Beach treasure hunt. Legend has it that the real Captain William Kidd buried treasure in the Cape May area.
His survivors include mother Gladys and brothers David (Lisa), AJ (Karen), and Joseph (Buffy).
His family will receive friends and other relatives from 9:30 to 11:15 a.m. Saturday at Cape May Convention Hall with the funeral set for 11:30. The ceremony livestream will go active at 11:15. For access, go to: https://client.tribucast.com/tcid/87805622.
In lieu of flowers, Mendo's family asks for donations to be sent to the Will Mendo Memorial Scholarship Fund, Middle Township High School, 300 E. Atlantic Ave., Cape May Court House, NJ 08210.
Contact Guy Gargan: 609-272-7210