Any of us can truly have an impact on the world

One of the most well-read sections of our paper online is the obituary listings.

That’s not uncommon, actually, as obituaries, sports and letters are traditionally popular sections of papers throughout the industry. People want to see if they knew someone who passed, how their favorite sports teams or athletes are faring and what issues are making people crazy at any given time.

Personally, I enjoy reading the obituaries because they serve as mini-biographies of human beings. It’s been said that “every person has a story,” and that is evident in every obituary you come across. Be it military accomplishments, a fascinating job history or a list of loved ones left behind, you truly get reminded that every one of us making our way through this wacky world has left a mark of some kind in our path.

When I came back to work on Monday following a mini-vacation for the holiday, I was greeted with news from our publisher that a high school football referee from Ocean View had passed. The name didn’t initially cause recognition when she told it to me, but when I found his obituary listing and saw the photo, I realized immediately that I had indeed crossed paths with him several times over the years.

His name was Michael Eugene Abbatiello, and he had unfortunately passed away while refereeing a high school football playoff game in Greenwood on Friday, Nov. 25. Abbatiello had also served as a Marine during the Cuban Missile Crisis, was a member of the Marine Corps League (where I had initially come across him) and volunteered at the soup kitchen at Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church with my wife.. When I texted her to ask if she remembered him, she said simply, “Yes. Sweet man. A real shame. I did like him very much. It’s so sad.”

That was pretty much my impression of the man, as well. He was quick with a smile, and I never saw any reason to think of him as anything less than a happy, kind man. I asked our sports reporter, Tripp Colonell, to reach out to some people at the high school to get their impressions of the man who had become well-known in the local sports world as a referee.

“Mike was a great guy and really loved what he did,” said Indian River Athletic Director Todd Fuhrmann. “[He] will be a big loss for athletics in Delaware.”

“Mike was a man who loved athletics and kids,” said Indian River football coach Phil Townsend. “He was unselfish and gave back to this community even when he could have walked away from athletics years ago. He will be missed by the entire coaching staff at IR. He will be hard to replace, but his dedication and legacy will live on forever. The Indian River family will miss Mike, and we thank his family for everything he did for this community.”

Well, Mike, you left your mark, sir. If life is indeed a game, as many have opined in the past, you won. He left behind his wife of 49 years, three children and six grandchildren. So, basically, he had a family he adored, he served his nation with pride, coached and taught in New York before moving to Ocean View, volunteered to help people who could use a little help and spent a great deal of time assisting kids in enjoying what they love doing in the world of sports by officiating their games.

That’s winning life, in my opinion. Bravo, Mr. Abbatiello.

• Those of you who read this column regularly (Hi, Mom!) know that I have an unusual fascination with words. I’m not a prototypical “grammar nazi,” in that I criticize other people for the way in which they string together words, but I do get fascinated with words themselves.

This probably has something to do with the fact that my mother is a retired Latin teacher and would break down the etymology of a word to the point where I would sometimes butcher a word on purpose just to see the color of her skin change into the most fascinating shade of red before she swung her...

But I digress. this week released its 2016 Word of the Year, based on how many people searched for its definition, per an article on The winner is “xenophobia.”

For those of you who might be unclear as to its meaning, offers two definitions: “fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers,” and, “fear or dislike of the customs, dress, etc. of people who are culturally different from oneself.”

Why is this still a thing?

Look, I’m as grouchy as the next guy, and dislike more people than I’m proud to admit. But there are a lot better reasons to dislike someone than for how they look, talk or pray. For instance, some people are actually fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Start there.

• Reason number 4,283,921 I love this area: Tree-lightings, parades and events in nearly every town in our community for the holidays.

There is nothing more magical to children, or adults when they aren’t looking at their wallets, than the Christmas season. That there are so many ways to enjoy that magic says a lot about this area.

• Regarding the flag-burning controversy making its way around the nation right now... I get it. Every time I see someone burning an American flag it makes me want to put out the fire with that person’s face.

But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it as free speech, and I respect that decision. It still isn’t an easy thing to see.