May 30, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Long-time OC sports announcer Mark Heller, 57, dies after battle with leukemia

Mark Heller with his wife of 28 years Mary after a softball tournament game at Cal State Fullerton in February where he called the play-by play. (Photo Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone)

Popular long-time Orange County sports broadcaster Mark Heller died Thursday morning, March 26 after a valiant battle with leukemia, his wife Mary confirmed with OC Sports Zone.

Heller, 57, died of complications from leukemia, which returned in the past week, his wife said. He died at Mission Hospital surrounded by his family, including his daughters Marissa and Macarah, she said. The coronavirus was not a factor in his death, Mary Heller added. The announcement of Mark Heller’s death was also posted on Facebook.

“Mark passed away today March 26 at 4:39 a.m.,” his wife said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. “He was in no pain and he passed peacefully. We were so grateful for how his death occurred. Two days before all this happened, we were all with him while he was able to communicate and we had the best time.

“We were laughing and playing music and just having a wonderful time with him, all of us. Yesterday, we all spent time with him going around the room and telling stories to him about him and we were sharing it and it went on for hours. He was just loved upon that whole last day with his whole family there. That was so important to him. It (the leukemia) returned in his spine and in his brain.”

RELATED: We honor Mark Heller with special memories

Last April 15, Heller said in an interview he was diagnosed with leukemia, but despite being in the hospital and having subsequent chemotherapy treatments, he kept his commitments announcing basketball games and softball tournaments.

“He was such a giving man, he encouraged people, he took people under his wings,” Mary Heller said. “He was everybody’s friend. He was a unique man and friend to everyone and a wonderful husband to me and a wonderful father to our children.”

As he was fighting the disease, Heller continued to work. He described himself as a “hoop-a-holic” and he closely followed all Orange County high school sports on sports sites.

One of his last assignments was as a public address announcer at a CIF Division 1 boys basketball semifinal playoff game between JSerra and Windward. He sat on the press row with a mask over his face to protect him. His voice was booming as he announced the starting lineups for the game. He had similar stints throughout Orange County at high school events and previously had been the play-by-play voice for the Cox 3 television games. He also called UCI basketball games on Cox television.

“I am so sorry to hear of Mark’s passing,” said JSerra boys basketball coach Keith Wilkinson. “He was a fantastic announcer and had such a passion for the game. He did not let his illness stop him of his passion, a true warrior. He was always a joy to speak with and such a professional to work with. We pray for his family left behind.”

Northwood boys basketball coach Tim O’Brien, who has battled cancer himself, said he and Heller became friends and texted often.

“Just very, very sad,” O”Brien said. “We became friends and always encouraged each other getting through these tough times. Cancer is evil and relentless. Leukemia is a tough cancer to beat. Mark and I both believed to live in faith, not in fear.”

Heller remained focused in January on his announcing assignments.

Heller did the play-by-play for at the Titan Classic softball tournament at Cal State Fullerton for an outlet that provides the games on the internet. His voice was strong during the five games he worked over three days from Feb. 7-9 and his will to live and overcome the disease remained strong. Heller, a deeply religious man, told friends he was not afraid of dying. He often said how proud he was of his family and how much he loved them.

Heller, who lived with his family in Rancho Santa Margarita, indicated he was looking forward to working more events and had been inquiring about other events, including the Orange County all-star basketball games in May. Heller said he had an interest in calling the play-by-play at those games.

In January, Heller called the play-by-by for four boys basketball games at the BSN Showcase at Pacifica Christian on a rainy night outside in Newport Beach. Heller teamed up with former Cal State Fullerton basketball star Chris Dade, who did the commentary for the telecasts, which were livestreamed for basketball fans. The last game he broadcast had a thrilling finish. Pacifica Christian defeated Arbor View of Las Vegas 69-68.

Heller talked about his challenges in an interview with OC Sports Zone after the last game that night.

“Last April 15, I had a white blood cell count of 163,000 and really should have died. I was in the hospital for 85 days,” he said. “I’ve gone through a total of seven rounds of chemotherapy but I’m living proof that through faith and prayer, you can live and you can fight this dreaded disease.”

He also wanted to spread awareness about leukemia.

“The thing about leukemia only a little over 19,000 people get diagnosed every year,” Heller said. “We definitely need more people donating bone marrow, because when I found a 100 percent match, even though I haven’t qualified to get the bone marrow yet, the person who was my match was a person overseas. I was not a 100 percent match with anyone in the United States.”

Heller said he was thrilled to be a part of an exciting day of basketball at Pacifica Christian and was looking forward to being a part of the event in the future.

“….This was a great tournament that Brandon (Pacifica Christian athletic director Gonzalez) and Jeffrey (Berokoff) are putting on and I’m hoping it will be an event that will happen for years to come.”

RELATED: Leukemia can’t stop Heller from announcing four games

-Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone;