By: George Guido
Saturday, February 19, 2022 | 11:01 AM
In the early 1990s, Dr. Mark Bellinger bought a scull and took up rowing for personal exercise.
His daughter, Katie, thought it looked fun and began urging her father to help start a rowing team at Fox Chapel Area High School.
It turned out to be the start of a quality interscholastic sports program that continues to thrive today.
Bellinger, credited with revitalizing the Fox Chapel crew program and a highly respected pediatric urologist, died Feb. 9 after a battle with cancer. He was 73.
“We started out with one little boat and 13 kids out of the Three Rivers Boating Club,” said Katie Bellinger Battilana. “After I graduated from Fox Chapel in 1998, he kept at it. He always liked working with kids.”
The club team, not sponsored by the school district or sanctioned by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, has grown to 50 participants and separate boys and girls teams.
“He’s the kind of person you want to like and the kind of person you’d want to be around,” said Katie Mamatas, rowing team member from 2004-08 and now coach of the girls team. “He’s just a stand-up guy and someone who put others’ needs before his own. He’s the most selfless person I knew.”
Dr. Bellinger not only coached and mentored the young people of the Fox Chapel area, he also did fundraising, acquired equipment and whatever was necessary to keep the program afloat.
After retiring from UPMC Children’s Hospital, Bellinger devoted even more time directing the program.
“He really went into it head-first and built a great foundation,” Bellinger Battilana said. “He didn’t want to lot of pomp and circumstance.”
While what he did for the rowing program was remarkable, Bellinger also traveled to impoverished areas of Africa such as Ghana, Zambia and Senegal, donating his time helping children who had limited access to surgeries. Through International Volunteers in Urology, Bellinger spent several days performing numerous surgeries.
“It’s hard to sum up the amount of goodness that was in him,” Mamatas said. “That’s one of the many things he was trying to do to make the world a better place. He never sought praise for anything he did, and he did it in such a quiet and humble way.”
A crowning achievement came in 2019 when the team celebrated a high-profile, $200,000 move to a new boathouse at Aspinwall Riverfront Park.
The club finally had a stretch of river to call its own instead of using an area near Herr’s Island.
Bellinger also was instrumental in obtaining a year-round training center for his rowers.
He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Catherine. Along with Katie, he was also father to Deb and sons Mike and Todd.
Funeral arrangements were handled by the Weddell-Ajak Funeral Home of Aspinwall.
Interment was private.