The Canadian para-sport community is mourning the passing of wheelchair basketball coach Jerry Tonello, who led Canada’s men to gold at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Tonello, 59, had stepped down from his coaching role in May 2015, while undergoing treatment for a brain tumour. but his thoughts never strayed far from the team. He continued to cheer on Canada from the sidelines, making an appearance to show his support for his athletes and coaches while the Canadian men competed at the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games in August. Team co-captain David Eng made a special, heartfelt tribute to Tonello on behalf of the team following the men’s gold medal game at the tournament.
“The wheelchair basketball community has lost one of its finest coaches, a tireless mentor and a true friend,” said Wheelchair Basketball Canada Executive Director Wendy Gittens. “Jerry loved wheelchair basketball as both a player and a coach, and his ultimate passion was working his athletes. He dedicated much of his life to the sport at both the grassroots and national team levels and inspired many along the way. We are deeply saddened by his passing and he will be forever missed by those who knew him. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”
"On behalf of the Canadian Paralympic Committee, our heartfelt condolences to Jerry's family, friends, and the sport community," said Gaétan Tardif, President of the Canadian Paralympic Committee. "Jerry was a tremendously well-respected coach. Bringing a work ethic instilled by his parents to his job on the sidelines, he made a remarkable contribution to the national wheelchair basketball program over many years."
Along with serving as the men's wheelchair basketball head coach at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, where the team won gold, Tonello was associate head coach at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, where the team won silver. He was assistant coach of the gold medal-winning team at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, as well as at the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games, where they placed fifth. He also coached at four Parapan American Games from 1999 to 2011.
Tonello grew up as an all-round athlete in football, basketball and a number of other sports. He is recognized in Canada as the first able-bodied player to compete at the national wheelchair basketball championships in 1992, although able-bodied players had been competing in the Canadian Wheelchair Basketball League since 1989.