By Ross Forman – Mark Gore – a popular, ever-giving former local referee and coach, who officiated an Illinois High School Hockey state championship game in 2010 – passed away Friday, Jan. 29 after a lengthy battle against cancer. He was 59.
Gore, who lived in Bartlett, officiated for about 15 years, and coached all levels from learn-to-skate through midgets and high school, particularly for the Schaumburg Kings organization. He skated the Girls High School Hockey State Championship game 11 years – and this past August was presented with the inaugural Mark Gore Service Award from IHOA, in honor of dedication and service to the local officiating organization.
IHOA Referee-in-Chief Eric Cowsill, one of several IHOA Board members who pushed for the new award, confirmed that the Mark Gore Award will be continued, presented annually to a deserving local official.
“Mark was a mentor on and off the ice, more so off the ice. He never rushed to leave a game; he would always sit and talk, to see how (the officiating) could have been better,” said Cowsill, friends with Gore for 12 years. “He always had a smile on his face, always had a great attitude. Anytime you saw him, it lightened up the room.”
“Mark was always a friendly face to see around the rink, always a joy to work with. On the ice and off the ice, he was always a classy individual,” said veteran local official Dave Ballantyne. “It’s a sad day for hockey in Illinois to lose such a fine ambassador to the game.”
Jim Paulucci tagged Gore, “one of the good guys.”
“I will always remember his huge smile as he greeted me in the officials’ room,” Paulucci said. “He was a fantastic teammate on the ice and his infectious happy attitude was a joy to be with at the rink. He was there for me when I was going through a low point in my life and for that I will always be grateful. He (was) one of the bravest people I ever knew.”
A family man with two sons (Sean, 32; Nick, 36) and four grandchildren, Gore worked in the tool & die industry, serving as a director of environmental health & safety. He enjoyed mountain biking and years ago rode bicycles professionally. He was an avid fisherman and went ice fishing by himself just a week ago.
He was a diehard Chicago Blackhawks fan who enjoyed shooting guns and long supported the 2nd Amendment – and even had WE THE PEOPLE tattooed on his arm.
Gore always was an adventurer, which included trips to backpack through Glacier National Park.
“He always wanted to go and do something, spend time with his family – and the outdoors was his thing. It was never, ever dull with him,” said Nick Gore, who was coached by his dad and officiated at times with him.
Veteran official Terry McLoughlin said Gore brought “quiet, confident leadership,” adding that Gore was “a great ref.”
“The passing of Mark was heartbreaking. He was so much fun to officiate a game with. I always looked forward to working with Mark,” said Ken Zschach. “He was a great official, but also a great human being. He definitely will be missed.”
Nik Levin added: “Mark is someone I always looked forward to seeing. He always worked hard on the ice and always was the best person off the ice. Mark is someone I looked up to; he will be greatly missed.”
Former IHOA President Chris Lindley said Gore was one of the officials who you wanted to see on your officiating schedule. “No matter what game you were working – from mite house to midget AAA – Mark had that infectious smile that impacted everyone in the building,” Lindley said. “For those of us who were blessed to work with him, they know what I am talking about.
“He genuinely enjoyed being in the rink and with the officials he worked with. He was the guy smiling from ear to ear when the benches were on fire as if nothing were unusual. His calming voice and demeanor could calm down everyone. He will truly be missed.”
Gore was diagnosed with brain cancer about five years, and though it was in remission for a stretch, multiple forms of cancer returned. Last September, doctors told him he had 45 to 60 days left.
Still, Nick said, “He made the most of it; he didn’t let it slow him down.”
Many local refs came together last September to honor Gore – and present him with the award and an autographed official’s sweater.
“Mark was a great friend I made through hockey; I loved working games with him. He was always smiling, had an infectious sense of humor, and was a solid official,” Nicole Davis said. “Through many conversations, I found out that he also loved the outdoors. We were able to go hiking and climbing many times, even (during) his illness – and he taught me how to look at the ‘big picture’ differently, rig lines and set pro better. He was a great official, a solid belay/climbing/hiking partner, and an even better human. I will miss his friendship, jokes, and wisdom.”
Cyndi Robertson added: “Officiating with Mark was always special because he viewed me as an equal on and off the ice. His integrity, professionalism and positive attitude made games fun. He faced every day with a smile on his face during the best and worst of times and is an example of courage for us all.”
Tom Robertson, like countless others from the Illinois hockey community, shed tears since the news of Gore’s passing hit social media – followed by hundreds of online tributes.
Gore’s perseverance in the face of health challenges will never be forgotten, Tom Robertson said. “He was an inspiration, always, remaining positive through the trials of his treatments that were interminable and incredibly intrusive and painful. (He) made your aches and pains and medical procedures seem totally inconsequential in comparison to the pain you knew he was suffering – and he was always able to remain positive. His determination seemed to grow in direct proportion to the adversity he faced.”
Tom also, of course, noted Gore’s infectious good humor. “I don’t ever remember working a game or meeting Mark in a dressing room where he wasn’t the happiest guy in the building to be skating and doing what he clearly loved,” Tom Robertson said. “Mark always lifted my game and I never saw him flustered.”
Tom added that Gore was, without question, driven by integrity. “His moral standards and behavior were always beyond reproach. He was as upright as his service and reflected in his sons of which he was justifiably proud,” Tom said.
Gore spent countless days, er, years coaching at the Polar Dome Ice Arena in East Dundee. He did not play organized hockey as a youth but was quick to set Nick on the skating path. Nick, while in kindergarten, brought home a brochure for learn-to-skate classes. “It was, like, minutes later … I had all my stuff,” for the class, Nick said. “He helped me (in hockey) from day one.”
Gore long served on the Schaumburg Kings board of directors.
Sjoukje Brown, now the Central District Referee-in-Chief, first met Gore years ago when both were coaching for the Kings and they ran the Lil Kings learn to play hockey program.
“What I very quickly learned about Mark was that he was the type of person who never hesitated to step up when a volunteer was needed, to help when someone needed assistance, or to stay later at the rink if something needed to be done to better the program for children,” Brown said. “When Mark started officiating, it was a natural progression of staying involved in a great game that he loved. Mark was passionate about hockey, about people, and about doing what was best for the sport of ice hockey. He was such a fun partner to work with on the ice. He knew the game well, had good rapport with coaches and players, and never hesitated to jump into a funny story in a locker room. His smile was infectious, and his care for others was always evident.
“He will be sorely missed in the Illinois hockey community.”
IHOA president Steve Rickard added, “Mark Gore was a great guy and official. He would bring passion to the game and always would light up the officials’ room. Mark was always there to help with IHOA and grooming new officials. The Mark Gore service award honors Mark’s dedication to IHOA and helping in any capacity IHOA needed him. Mark will be dearly missed.”
USA Hockey supervisor Jack Raslawski, who formerly assigned games for IHOA, remembers how Gore would drive anywhere, at any time for any game, regardless of the level of play. “Mark would give you the shirt off his back; he would go into the trenches for you. He would do anything, and always with a smile on his face.”
Nick said that his dad always let coaches air their grievances, but insisted it be done in a tactful manner – and when the coach was done yelling, Gore would offer him a piece of gum, just so he would forget why he was upset.
“He loved the brotherhood of officiating and wanted to make sure that officials did it with the highest regard and were held to the highest standard. He didn’t make the game about the officials,” Nick Gore said.
Gore certainly had a love for the crews in black and white – and he let others know that. Take, for instance, the Illinois High School Hockey State Championship a few years ago at the United Center. Gore and several other veteran officials were in the area where the scheduled on-ice officials for the game would go onto the ice. As those officials approached, Mark stood up and was yelling and screaming, cheering for the referees.
“My dad lived and breathed for referees. He thought the officiating community was the coolest thing to be a part of,” Nick Gore said. “Officiating and the officiating community was a way of life for my dad – and he held it in the highest regard.”
Gore actually wanted to refuse the Mark Gore Service Award last September. Nick said his dad’s attitude, as others will attest, was: ‘This isn’t about me – it’s about us,” Nick Gore said, explaining his dad’s initial thoughts of the award.
Nick Gore added, “The award is the ultimate compliment, the ultimate sign of respect – to know that my dad will live on through that (award).”
Jeremy Baldwin spent 10 years officiating with Gore before moving to Minnesota about three years ago.
“His company on the ice was so valuable that I found myself enjoying working games with him even if the game itself wasn’t very enjoyable,” said Baldwin, who often worked two-official AAA games with Gore, particularly at the Bantam Major level, which he tagged as “among the best I ever worked.”
“If you had a good national match-up, you were in for a skate, one that was both intense and (with the) skill and pace that was like a symphony on ice. Officials needed to be up for the challenge and when I worked with Mark, I always knew I had a great partner, one who had the skill to keep up, the judgment to make sound decisions and the interpersonal skills to manage every players’ and coaches’ emotions.
“I knew Mark and I could handle it, and we always had a lot of fun doing it.”
Baldwin skated one early Saturday morning game with Gore during the prestigious annual Nike Bauer tournament – and Gore tagged Baldwin in a pre-game Facebook post that he was getting ready for “the fog of war.” Baldwin smiled when he read it, and they ultimately worked a game featuring two of the best teams in the country.
“I can still see Mark’s welcoming smile and his extended hand anytime he greeted me. He will be missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him,” Baldwin said.
Gore often got phone calls from young officials, curious about a rule or a situation. He never refused to share his knowledge, offer his insight.
“Mark had an infectious personality and always had a positive attitude,” said Joe Pocztowski. “He always knew how to put a smile on your face and skated every game at 110 percent. It didn’t matter if you were officiating a 2-2 triple-overtime state final, or an 8-0 barnburner in the second period, Mark’s commitment to the game was second to none. He was the guy we could all probably learn a lesson or two from every time you skated with him.
“While we all mourn the loss of this great man, we need to celebrate the mark he has left on the world of hockey.”
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.