INDIANAPOLIS — March Madness is right around the corner.
It’s a tournament full of many firsts this year, including the state of Indiana hosting the entire tournament in one location, and this year the NCAA is honoring Final Four Frontline Heroes.
Inside the Carmel Market District, things look a little different with the pandemic. Masks and plexiglass fill the building, but the spirit of one particular employee remains the same.
Mark Tunnell has worked at the market for about five years.
“It’s not really a task. It’s something I look forward to,” said Tunnell.
However, for the first time, he was chosen as an NCAA Final Four Front Line Hero. The video sent to WRTV shows the moment he was surprised with the award, recognizing frontline workers who go above and beyond during this pandemic.
“It may have my name on it, but it represents a lot of hard work by a lot of people.”
It may be a group effort, but Tunnell goes above and beyond to make sure he prepares healthy food for Hoosiers to take home and eat safely.
A letter submitted by Tunnell’s wife of 41 years, nominated him for this recognition.
“I guess it was pretty accurate,” said Tunnel.
It read that, “Mark is a 68-year-old, multi-racial man who is considered “high risk” for COVID-19. With all of that considered, Tunnell’s co-workers said he’s never backed down from his work.
Tunnel’s boss, Rick Hopkins said, “I think they finally discovered what we’ve known for five years, is a Mark is a hero.”
He said, “Mark is an incredible example. At 68 years old through this last year, when everybody was struggling with what they’re, doing I don’t think he missed a single day at work with us.”
Hopkins said Tunnell has s also added to his workload, during the pandemic. When others are gone, he jumps in to help with things like bagging groceries, and he does it all while taking care of added responsibilities at home.
“We’re both a full-time caregiver for senior parents at home and the struggle that goes with that is really an added balance in that work-life balance here,” said Hopkins.
His balance and perseverance caught the attention of Indy Sports Corp. The organization is partnering with the NCAA, on March Madness.
Brett Kramer is Indy Sports Corp’s Director of Public Relations.
“To make an event such as March Madness happen it really takes all of us,” said Kramer. “At the forefront of that unification and really pushing forward are our Frontline Heroes," said Kramer.
Kramer said Tunnell’s story brings their Front-Line Heroes award to life. She said, “When we heard he was sleeping in a separate room from his family, not only to keep them safe but his coworker safe in the long run... like that hits home. I don’t know if everybody can make those types of sacrifices. So, we’re so thankful that Marc was not only nominated but that we were able to recognize him and I know he’s kind of setting the standard for Frontline heroes going forward.”
Right now, Tunnel’s one of six to have received the recognition. He said, “I was caught off guard, I am honored.”
He said he played sports when he was young, “I don’t think there’s a trophy anywhere in the state of Indiana that has my name on it.”
Now, he has something marking the legacy he leaves behind. “I told my son I said well you know at least I have something to pass on to you... in a little recognition,” said Tunnell.
The NCAA goal is to honor at least 20 heroes by March 12. Indy Sports Corp said they are working on other ways to honor the front-line hero’s during the final four tournaments, but those plans aren’t set yet.
To nominate someone as an NCAA Final Four Frontline hero, you can find a link here.