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The Dartmouth
May 26, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

‘He just cared for everybody’: Josh Balara ’24 remembered for his warmth and humorous personality

Known for his constant smile and endless kindness, Josh Balara ’24 cared deeply for his friends and family.

Courtesy of Brendan Balara

To his friends and family, Joshua Balara ’24 was a “gentle teddy bear” who always strove to uplift those around him, according to his Dartmouth football teammate and friend Tevita Moimoi Jr. ’24.

“You know when you hug someone, and someone releases first?” Moimoi Jr. asked. You would have to be the one to do so [with Josh], or else you would just be hugging each other for a really long time ... [That is] the best way to describe Josh.”

Balara died at 21-years-old in his home in Trucksville, Pennsylvania, surrounded by friends and family, according to his obituary in the Times Leader. A hardworking and compassionate player on the Dartmouth football team, Balara was diagnosed with stage four adrenal cancer in early July 2022. He is survived by his parents Gregory and Evelyne Balara and siblings Brendan and Rebecca Balara. 

According to his obituary, Balara studied engineering and environmental studies at Dartmouth, played as an offensive lineman on the Varsity football team — which won the Ivy League Championship in 2021 — and belonged to the Gamma Delta Chi fraternity. Teammate and friend Gannon McCorkle ’24 said Balara was an avid builder of Lego sets, a rock music aficionado and a foodie.

Brendan Balara said his brother was his best friend, adding that they bonded over their many shared interests — whether that was playing lacrosse in their family home’s backyard or watching Marvel movies together.

Upon first meeting Balara in the fall of 2020 his freshman year, McCorkle said he could tell that Balara “really cared about people in a way that wasn’t really vocal.” 

“It was more so a feeling that you had,” McCorkle said. While Balara was introverted and a man of few words, the words he did say were always meaningful, McCorkle added. 

Teammate and friend Nicholas Schwitzgebel ’24 said that before team meetings, members of the football team had to say 10 words. Balara always responded humorously by saying the literal phrase “10 words,” Schwitzgebel recalled.

Teammate and friend Nic Sani ’24 said Balara’s sense of humor always made him laugh.

“There were times when I couldn’t even breathe from laughing so hard, [where I felt] just pure joy and happiness,” Sani said. “[He] always put a smile on my face.”

McCorkle said that Balara brought a “certain energy” and “aura” to the team which “everyone really gravitated towards.” Balara had an ability to shine and light up a room — he was “the kind of guy that everyone wanted to be around,” Brendan Balara said.

Dartmouth football assistant coach for the offensive line Keith Clark said he knew Balara for nearly five years, having recruited Balara to Dartmouth while he was in high school. 

“There was no finer young man we could recruit from a character standpoint,” he said. “[Josh was] intelligent, gifted athletically and very dedicated to his sport.” 

Clark added that Josh’s impact on others was made evident by the number of people from both his hometown and the College present at his memorial service. 

“Josh was an exceptional teammate, and that was demonstrated by the number of teammates that flew or drove to his wake and funeral services all over the country to honor him,” Clark said.  

Holekamp family director of strength and conditioning Spencer Brown wrote that Josh supported his teammates this past fall during football season in the midst of his cancer battle. 

“My favorite memory of Josh will be of him on the sidelines this past season,” Brown wrote. “He was always smiling. His teammates were always excited and happy to be around him.”

While fighting cancer, Brendan Balara said his brother’s “courage and maturity throughout the whole situation really [shined]through.” 

“He never lost the qualities that made him him,” Brendan Balara said. “[He was a] kind, unselfish warrior.”

On the day he died, Balara got blood on the front of the gown from a nosebleed, according to Brendan Balara. Their father joked that his son had to change into a clean shirt before the nurse arrived, since it looked like he had gotten into a fight.

Brendan Balara recalled how his brother replied: “You should have seen the other guy.” 

After Balara’s cancer diagnosis — and before starting football pre-season camp in August 2022 — Ross Parrish ’24 and other players closest to Balara — including Schwitzgebel, McCorkle, Sani, Moimoi and others — shaved their heads in solidarity.

“I could tell it meant a lot to him, so it was good to show him our support,” Parrish said. “It was a cool moment of togetherness to show him that we’re here with [him], and [say], ‘We’re doing everything we can to support you, even though we can’t necessarily be with you right now.’ We just wanted to remind him that we were thinking of him.” 

Schwitzgebel said he first met Balara on their official visits to Dartmouth when they were seniors in high school, and as their friendship developed, their families grew close as well. Whenever their families traveled to Dartmouth to watch the team’s home games, they would eat breakfast at The 4 Aces Diner in West Lebanon together. 

“He was one of my best buddies,” Schwitzgebel said. “From the greater aspect of the team, we’re losing easily the best teammate possible. He never complained, always showed up and always put it all out there. He was the perfect picture of what a good teammate is.” 

Former Dartmouth offensive lineman and current student coach James McCarthy ’23 experienced Balara’s kindness first-hand at the Class of 1953 Commons, where Balara spent much of his time. 

“He loved Foco, and he loved making sure nobody would sit alone,” McCarthy said. “It really didn’t matter who it was. He was very quiet, but he loved to talk to people and make you feel better, [and] make you feel like you had somebody there to listen. He just cared for everybody.” 

McCarthy said the football team is currently deciding how to best honor Balara. To start, Balara’s jersey number, 76, will go unworn this upcoming football season, McCarthy said.  

On March 22, a Mass of Christian Burial was held at St. Therese’s Church, followed by interment at St. Mary’s Cemetery, according to Balara’s obituary. 

A fund was made in Balara’s honor to institute a yearly scholarship at his high school, according to Balara’s obituary. The award will be given to one football player who exemplifies the same qualities as Balara. 

Correction appended (March 31, 10:13 a.m.): A previous version of this article left out that Moimoi also shaved his head to support Balara. The article has been updated.