Mariner football coach inspires team while fighting Parkinson’s disease – ABC7 News

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — When Bart Austin retired from coaching football and his job as assistant administrator at Franklin Central High School in Indiana this spring, he settled in Cape Coral to enjoy paradise.

But letting go of your passion isn’t that easy. Austin couldn’t stay away from the gridiron. He called around to check if any schools were looking for volunteer coaches and got in contact with Mariner head football coach Josh Nicholson.

“He came out and watched practice, which was nice because all the kids thought he was a college recruiter,” said Nicholson. “He had his Indiana shirt on, he was walking around so the kids had really good practice that day. I got to talk to him after and we didn’t talk much football, just kind of talked about life and his story and the direction of the program, and it was a good fit.”

The fact that he’s had so much success in the football world definitely makes him a good fit. Austin is the oldest of three brothers who all grew up playing the sport and he continued to play in college at the University of Indianapolis. Afterwards, he started coaching at Franklin Central.

“We had a conditioning program that was modeled throughout the state,” said Austin. “From 1980 to 1990, we went to the state final seven times and won four state championships and lost three.”

But it’s not just that. It’s also the inspiration that he brings to Mariner. Austin has been fighting Parkinson’s disease for three decades.

“When my neurologist told me I had Parkinson’s, I walked out of her office and didn’t go back for five years,” said Austin. “And I went back because I was losing the use of my left leg. She gave me another exam and put me on some pills. And the pills worked but I still needed something else.”

Austin then underwent a 16-hour deep brain stimulation surgery where there’s a battery pack placed in his chest and wires run up his neck to his head. The wires split into eight segments and run through holes drilled into his skull.

“They wake you up during the surgery to make sure they drill the holes in your head in the right spot,” Austin said, laughing.

He said the surgery was a miracle. He could walk again, play golf and do many things he wasn’t able to before. One of those things it allowed him to continue was coaching football. Austin has brought that fighting spirit to the Tritons.

“He inspires the kids because he’s consistent,” said Nicholson. “He’s here every day and the kids know how much he cares. And it’s the old saying, ‘the kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’”

“I know things get hard,” said Mariner cornerback Tony Townsend. “I know that nobody’s perfect, things happen. With that, for him to still come out here and do the thing he loves — coach football, just be out here with the students, be out here with the team. That means a lot. It gives you like this mentality that no matter what you can never blame yourself or blame the things that are going on in your life. Because he’s out here doing it that means we could be doing it also.”

The tenacity that Austin shows has forever left an impact on the players and coaching staff.

“He taught me how to love,” said Townsend. “We’ve become a lot more… just brothers, it feels like a team. It actually feels like a family out there.”

“One hundred percent it shows me how important the game of football is because he can be doing anything in life,” said Nicholson. “He’s done his time. He’s retired now and the one thing he wants to do is volunteer his time and give back to these kids and get back to this community. So, it shows them how impactful this game can be.”

Although Parkinson’s affects Austin’s brain, he doesn’t let it affect his mindset.

“I choose to keep going and be active,” said Austin. “I don’t choose to let Parkinson’s control what I do.”

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