N.C. State's Page Marsh mourns loss of her 'biggest champion,' husband George Tarantini

Courtesy photo: Page Marsh

N.C. State's Page Marsh mourns loss of her 'biggest champion,' husband George Tarantini

Women

N.C. State's Page Marsh mourns loss of her 'biggest champion,' husband George Tarantini

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On the walk back from dinner in Vail, Colorado, Page Marsh mentioned to her assistant coach that she hadn’t heard from George. This wasn’t all that unusual, but by the time the N.C. State coaches got their team off on Sept. 25 for the 10 a.m. start at Red Sky Golf Club, Marsh had started to worry about her husband.

The two coaches drove to the 14th hole, where Darby Sligh usually coached from the fairway at the Golfweek Conference Challenge while Marsh went up to the next par 3. But they stayed together this time. Marsh contacted her former assistant coach, Ashlee Dean, now a sergeant in the Cary, North Carolina, police force, to do a wellness check on George Tarantini, the legendary N.C. State soccer coach.

When word of Tarantini’s sudden death reached the top of the mountain at Red Sky, there was nowhere for the N.C. State coaches to go. Sligh held her friend in the bushes off the 16th green, 50 yards from their top two players, facing up toward the mountain with their backs toward play.

Tarantini was 70.

They took back roads down to the clubhouse and cried on the front steps.

Marsh, a woman of uncommon poise and strength, gathered herself and began the three-hour trek alone to the Denver airport.

Tarantini had always made the airport runs at Raleigh-Durham, grousing about the guards at the curb and commenting on the heaviness of his wife’s bag. They had their rituals.

This time, however, Marsh’s sisters, Sheree and Amber, picked her up.

Back in Colorado, Sligh huddled the team together in the parking lot to break the news. Some players at that age have yet to experience loss. Sligh didn’t know if she’d be able to hold it together, or if that even mattered.

They were gutted.

George Tarantini said he’d never date anyone who either had children, graduated from North Carolina, or worked as a head coach.

“I was the trifecta,” Marsh said, laughing.

N.C. State’s baseball coach, Elliott Avent, had an office close to Marsh’s in the early aughts and told her that she needed to meet Tarantini.

“No, no, no,” said Marsh of the expressive Italian. “He’s scary.”

N.C. State women’s golf coach Page Marsh and late husband George Tarantini took former UNC coach Dot Gunnells to see Tony Bennett in Durham. (Courtesy photo: Page Marsh)

She was a mother of twin girls, charged with building a program from the ground up in 2000 after reinstatement. Many wondered, how did those two get together?

He was the night owl. A passionate extrovert who didn’t plan life – he lived it. Tarantini ordered the house red in honor of his father and treated a home-cooked meal like an event. He had a gift for story-telling and a problematic skill, at least in his wife’s opinion, of knowing a person’s weight down to the pound. His snoring could rock the house. She called it “wonderful.”

They were together for 18 years.

“Did he change me? Absolutely,” said Marsh. “He taught me to find my voice.”

Tarantini, who died instantly of a heart attack, retired from N.C. State in November 2010 as the winningest coach in program history, leading the Wolfpack to nine NCAA appearances. He served on the coaching staff for 29 years, 25 as head coach, compiling a record of 234-197-43.

He coached a number of U.S. national team players, including Tab Ramos, the current U-20 U.S. national team coach. President Barack Obama’s former press secretary, Robert Gibbs, played for Tarantini. Jim Valvano was a great friend.

“He was your biggest champion,” said Marsh. “He loved hard, and he rode you hard, because he wanted you to realize your best you.”

Tarantini grew up in a tenement in Buenos Aires that shared a common bathroom with other families. He recalled being picked on for going to a dance during the summer in a brown wool suit.

He was sensitive to children who might be bullied, and he enjoyed rooting for the underdog. A naturally curious man who admired good craftsmanship, he once carved a table from a sycamore tree.

Once in Sardinia, Marsh recalled her “Renaissance Man” arranging an early-morning horse ride as a way for her to unplug from the job. He understood the demands.

N.C. State women’s golf coach Page Marsh and her late husband George Tarantini horseback riding in Sardinia. (Courtesy photo: Page Marsh)

Rollins coach Julie Garner visited the couple from time to time in Raleigh and called it her coaching camp.

“Between the two of them, they covered the entire spectrum of history, culture, art, food sports,” said Garner. “It wasn’t just about coaching, it was about life.”

For all their differences, Marsh and Tarantini shared common values. Chief among them: respect the game.

“The power of sport for both of us was a very central part of our lives,” said Marsh. “We respected our sports, No. 1. We coached from that foundation.”

N.C. State will host a celebration of life on Nov. 23 at Reynolds Coliseum. Over 400 people attended Tarantini’s funeral, including several of Marsh’s former teammates at UNC.

On Friday, N.C. State will compete for the first time since Tarantini’s death at North Carolina’s Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel Invitational. It’s an ideal way for the Wolfpack to ease back into things, noted Sligh, sleeping in their own beds and competing on a familiar track.

“Whether Page can make it to UNC or not,” said Sligh, “we know we’re kind of representing something bigger than ourselves this weekend, between Page and George and N.C. State and the idea of family.

“I think that is what everyone is playing for.”

N.C. State women’s golf coach Page Marsh with her “Wolfpack family.” (Courtesy photo: Page Marsh)

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