CHAMPAIGN — A few Next Generation sixth-graders took hesitant steps toward a new street sign at Galen and Lancaster drives on Friday.
"Come on, anyone who wants to get in on this," said Champaign Mayor Don Gerard.
And with that, tentative steps turned into a stampede of sixth-graders, donning their blue "super Danny" T-shirts and sprinting toward the street sign, covered for the moment with a veil.
"Don't pull yet!" a teacher told them.
Gerard led the countdown — 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 — and Danny Nardi's classmates pulled the veil off his new street sign: Danny Nardi Way, between Ross Drive and Lancaster Drive, down the street from Next Generation school and a corner that Danny walked past every day.
Danny died on March 7, six days before his 11th birthday, after a five-year fight with neuroblastoma. But it was not before he taught his friends not to fret so much about the little things and to never give up.
"Danny was a very good friend, maybe the best friend anyone could have," said Marco Barbieri, a sixth grader who was among his closest friends. "He never really felt sad and he just wanted to make the most of everything."
Rui Bhosale recalled playing Harry Potter with Marco and Danny with sticks they picked up off the ground. She called it one of their "magical moments."
"A magical moment is something that sticks to you forever, just like tape," she said.
It was Danny's classmates who made the push for the honorary street designation, a special action that must be approved by the city council. Danny's class visited the Champaign public works department in May and saw a street sign being made.
They decided then that Danny was deserving.
"As soon as the students heard about the honorary street sign, they just really wanted to get one for Danny," said Next Generation fifth-grade teacher Ann Quackenbush. "And I think it shows that Danny is always with us."
The class petitioned the city, met with the mayor and attended a city council meeting to see it through.
Danny's parents, Richard Nardi and Cristina Toharia, attended the unveiling ceremony with Danny's two younger brothers, Tom and Marco. Richard Nardi said it was a great sign of how much his friends and classmates cared.
"It's such a wonderful symbol of the love that Danny shared with his friends," Richard Nardi said.
He added that the friendship with his classmates was with him until the end.
"It gave him strength to keep fighting," Richard Nardi said.
Barbieri said Danny's fight made him realize that he should not worry too much.
"He taught me that I have all these little, unimportant things that I don't really need to worry about, but I do," Barbieri said. "Now I don't worry about them as much. He taught me that there are lots of other people in the world with bigger problems."
Rui Bhosale said Danny taught her a lesson, too: "To never give up."