A Father's Day story: Bonasorte family lives with Monk's presence every day

Ryan S. Clark, Lead Beat Writer
Warchant

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Gene Williams/Warchant

For years, Monk and Beverly Bonasorte would make an annual road trip from Tallahassee to Destin. They would drive two-and-a-half hours to catch up with some of Monk's former teammates from when he played football at Florida State.

On their way to the beach, they would listen to '80s music. Specifically, Phil Collins or Christopher Cross. Sometimes, Monk would mix things up and throw on The Temptations.

Soon, the couple had two sons, T.J. and Rocky. And once the boys were old enough, they started coming on the yearly excursion, too.

The music in the car switched from power ballads to Barney and Disney songs. Eventually, the teenage boys began listening to their own music on headphones while the adults saw the return of Collins, Cross and The Temptations.

"If he had his way on a road trip, he would be napping and I would be driving," Beverly said. "That's how it would be. He would always drive there, so I could drive back."

Today marks the Bonasorte family's first Father's Day since Monk, whose birth name is Joseph, passed away at the age of 59. He died last November after a 13-month bout with brain cancer.

Monk's death had a profound impact on Florida State's entire athletic community. A member of the FSU Athletics Hall of Fame, he was an All-American who played defensive back for the Seminoles from 1977 through 1980.

He started the Varsity Club, an organization that allows former letter-winners to have an active role in supporting the university through various methods. He was the Varsity Club's executive director and president until joining the athletic department in 2008.

Monk was named the associate director of athletics at that point and oversaw FSU's football, softball and women's soccer programs. During his tenure, all three teams achieved national acclaim.

Football would win the BCS National Championship in 2013, while women's soccer would capture a national title in 2014. Monk, in 2009, hired Lonni Alameda to take over the softball program. Alameda, in turn, made FSU one of the best softball programs in the nation and led the Seminoles to a school-record fifth consecutive Super Regional this season.

"He was definitely quiet, but he was so passionate about his university," Alameda said. "He went to school here. He was a student-athlete here. He was very prideful of Florida State. Now that he was an administrator, he wanted to make sure student-athletes felt welcomed."

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Courtesy of Beverly Bonasorte

A son finds his own path into sports

As a child, T.J. Bonasorte cared more about playing with Pokemon cards than picking up a baseball, basketball or football. He knew his father played football. But when people asked what position he played, he said he had no idea.

"I saw his face on cups and saw him interact with people," T.J. says with a bit of a smile. "I knew he was a little more important than the average person. But I thought that was just because he was my dad. I did not know he was an All-American and great player like that."

When T.J. was seven year old, he was diagnosed with staph. The disease affected one of his hips, which limited his ability to play sports.

Despite all of his athletic success, Monk never forced T.J. or Rocky, who would later be a walk-on wide receiver at FSU, to play anything. His concern was for them to enjoy life, whether they picked up a ball or not.

T.J. said he started taking an interest in sports when he was a junior in high school, and he worked up the strength to try out for the Lincoln High baseball team when he was a senior. T.J. did not make the team, but he was asked to help out as a student manager. He maintained that position until the last game of the regular season, when he dressed for one game and had a single at-bat.

"The coach gave me a chance to play my senior year and for senior night, and I struck out," said T.J., who described his lone at-bat as his favorite memory with his dad. "He said he was so proud of me."

T.J.'s interest in sports continued to grow, and he now works inside the football team's recruiting office at the Moore Center. Being inside Moore, a place where his father consistently roamed the halls, has become easier with each day.

"It' hasn't been rough. It's just been different. I am accepting he's in a better place," T.J. said. "It's just that there's no one I can really talk to about what happened in this situation with life or family or Florida State.

"I had my car break down yesterday. Usually, he would be the one to help me out. It's just the small things that really get me."

T.J. said his father took his family extremely seriously. Monk never brought any work-related issues home, and he always made time for his children.

T.J., who still lives at home, said his dad would often get on to him and his brother whenever their rooms were messy. A month after Monk's passing, T.J. walked into his room and noticed that it wasn't clean. That's when it hit him that they'd never have that conversation again.

"The difference is all the small things have really piled up," T.J. said. "But I've gotten used to that now. I'm doing my best to keep on top of things before they ever pile. It's a little bit different, but we're getting used to it."

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Gene Williams/Warchant

'He had such favor from God'

It was the mid-1980s, and Beverly was a cheerleader for the Jacksonville Bulls, the city's United States Football League franchise.

During one game, she noticed a "really cute" guy on the sideline. Beverly saw him again at a race in St. Augustine, and Monk asked her out on their first date.

"We're in this restaurant, and this little kid came up and asked for his autograph," she remembered. "The little kid told me his stats. Monk never told me anything about his football career."

But that's not what impressed her most. While they were driving around, Monk saw a woman trip and fall down on the sidewalk.

He pulled over, got out of his car and helped the woman to her feet.

"We're both Catholic. We met right before Lent. He'd given up drinking and was taking me to church," Beverly said. "I thought, 'I've met the perfect, Catholic man.' Easter rolls around, and there was a little bit of something different in him. I just knew his heart."

Beverly said when their sons were 5 and 4, respectively, Monk gave up drinking because he did not want to miss a minute of the children's lives. She said Monk had the kind of inner strength that allowed him to set and continue his goals.

There was one year when he gave up eating french fries, and he never ate them for the rest of his life. He also was something of a fitness freak. She said Monk kept numerous journals, logging how many miles he ran each day on a treadmill. Beverly estimated Monk had close to 20 journals.

Her husband's willpower, coupled with his ability to help others, Beverly said, was among her favorite traits Monk possessed.

"So many things have happened to him along the way. He had such favor from God," she said. "How do you go from being in a federal prison camp to having two [university] presidents, two large-and-in-charge football coaches and two athletic directors speaking at your [funeral] service?

"How does someone get that recognition? He never quit."

Beverly's reference to Monk being in a federal prison camp stems from his 1987 arrest on cocaine distribution charges. He was sentenced to six months in prison.

"I always wanted him to tell his story," Beverly said. "It was well known back in the day when it happened. He got in trouble with cocaine. He was addicted to cocaine. He got down on his knees one night and prayed to go make it public so he would quit.

"The very next day, the [Florida Department of Law Enforcement] called him and he ended up being tried in a federal court."

Beverly said the experience changed Monk's life, and she urged him to share his story so others could know there was still time to turn their own lives around.

"It was an amazing gift. He just would never tell that story," she said. "He would probably be mad if I was telling you. I think it's part of his amazing journey."

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Courtesy of Beverly Bonasorte

On the road again

On this Father's Day, both Rocky and T.J. are scheduled to be working. Beverly, however, has the day off.

She's getting in her car and making the trip to Jacksonville to see Monk's former teammates.

"You know what I do? I prepare myself," Beverly said of the drive. "This is the year of firsts. Here is my philosophy, and it was Monk's as well: When we started this battle, we were not going to let anything rob us of our joy."

Beverly said Monk's brain cancer did not cause physical pain, but he did gradually lose functionality. They found ways to stay positive by telling jokes or thinking about things that made them happy.

She used that mentality when experiencing her first Valentine's Day without him.

"I knew that was going to be tough," she said. "I knew my Valentine is in heaven. I had to tell myself, 'I'm loved in heaven and on Earth. That was my mantra, and from there, I was fine."

Beverly and her sons have managed by being there for each other while getting help from others. She said several of Monk's former teammates have provided emotional and financial assistance over the last few months.

They have sent her Valentine's Day cards and Facebook messages making sure she and the boys were doing OK.

"They weren't just his teammates back in the late '70s and early '80s," Beverly said. "They are his teammates for life."

When Beverly gets on the road, she'll drive down Interstate-10 listening to music. There's a chance something by Phil Collins or The Temptations could be playing.

More than likely, she'll be listening to Christian music.

Ever since Monk passed, she finds herself doing that more and more. The song that's meant most to her is, "Tell Your Heart To Beat Again" by Danny Gokey, a Christian recording artist.

"There's a line where he sings, 'Leave the darkness, feel the sun, 'cause your story's far from over, and your journey's just begun," Beverly says. "Good or bad. I have to keep moving forward. There's nothing about it I would change."

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