When Alan asked me to share a story about coach Nalley, my thoughts ranged from 1966 when a new family moved into the Oak View subdivision, and their backyard was our left field. Our home plate was in the Janowski twins' backyard, and we needed to get approval from the new neighbors.
Yours truly was drafted to seek permission, a scary task for a ten-year-old. I knocked, and Mrs. Nalley answered with a big smile. And she said of course and introduced me to Johnny. That could have been where "Little Johny's" nickname came from.
Then my thoughts then went to 1994. I would walk our son Donny to the bus stop and throw the football until the bus arrived. The bus pulls up, doors open, and there is Coach, then school superintendent." Coach introduced himself to Donny and said your dad was a heck of a football player.
Coach explained to me that he road all the bus routes at the beginning of the school year, starting with the lowest grades, to make sure they took the best route and did not miss anyone. How many school superintendents do that?
But the one thing that God continued to put on my heart was:
His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter the joy of your master.' Luke 19:23
Carlin Nalley took what Lisle had to offer and went to work.
Starting with a muddy football field, then crowning it and motivating the town people to lay new sod, my father and I were among the volunteers.
The track went from a dirt path to one of the state's top-rated track & field facilities. And there are many other examples.
Coach didn't stop there. Utilizing commonsense solutions, he guided the Lisle Park District to new heights.
As Lisle's school superintendent, Lisle schools' gained numerous awards and recognitions.
These accomplishments pale compared to the thousands of students he touched and worked to keep on the "right path."
Well done, good and faithful servant; the world needs more men like you.
I was with about half a dozen teammates watching and listening as Coach broke down game film when Mrs. Nalley walked up, a soft drink in each hand and said, “Carlin, let the boys get back to their dates.” It was the Homecoming Dance my senior year.
All night you could hear the whir of the Super 8 projector coming from the darkened corner of the Commons between songs.
The consummate multi-tasker, you simply could not out-work the Coach even when he was a chaperone.
It’s as if the Good Lord figured out how to combine Knute Rockne with a Swiss army knife
Coach Nalley was my grade school basketball coach
He WAS the Lisle Park District in its infancy and early years
He taught me how to triple jump, how to run the wishbone, how to get a good start from the blocks, how to read a defense.
He taught me the team came first and hard work will always pay off.
He coached me and hundreds of others with the same personal attention.
He also created my self-survival techniques like exiting the football field as far away from him as possible if his hat was in his hands, hands on hips, disbelief in his facial expressions. If the hat was freshly stomped, I learned to just stay on the field or fake an injury for the sympathy angle. It never worked
Coach pulled me out of last period study hall more than once to go to Hayden’s Sporting Goods in Aurora. I will treasure our conversations to and from Aurora forever.
On one of those trips, he said he was going to have the academics speech at practice.
The goal was to make sure we focused on schoolwork first.
He held up two fingers and said, “Academics first,” then held up one finger and said, “football second”. So, if Dr Miller asks, I can say you have all been told.
Coach was sneaky funny
He took me on college recruiting trips and was the first non-family member I called after picking the Indiana Hoosiers.
I learned if you needed a roll of tape, a practice jersey, or a relay baton there had to be one buried somewhere in the back of his VW bus which housed a warehouse full of gear, jerseys, and football play diagrams.
For years we knew about Johnny and Karla, but suddenly there was Alan. We figured he had been there all along, just buried in the back of that VW bus under a mountain of track results sheets.
My senior year my 440 relay teammates and I were on the track in Charleston at the class Double A state meet. Countless people stopped us to say hello, and all said, “You must be Carlin’s boys”
We proudly answered yes. And for each of us, it did not end at graduation. The title lasted forever in Coach’s eyes. Any of his athletes were forever his boys.
And it became a generational thing
A week after my daughter Lauren and her Naperville Central teammates won their second consecutive state basketball title, Coach handed me a giant envelope packed with articles. Lauren’s name highlighted in yellow every time it appeared.
He handed me the packet and proceeded to rattle off the accomplishments of the children of his former players. To him, our kids were de facto Lions, and he was an encyclopedia of their accomplishments.
As a parent, I found myself measuring my kids’ coaches against the Carlin Nalley standard. It was never a fair fight. Both of my kids simply call him “Coach,” as they’ve heard a lifetime of stories and lessons from him through me.
To the Lisle alums who were not athletes he will always be the beloved “Mr. Nalley”
In 2020, I released my first novel. Coach read it, told me he liked it, then proceeded to give me exactly twenty-three laps. One for each major cuss word in the book. You see, I broke the team rule about cussing, and it was going to cost me.
Walking out of Chicken Unlimited on Maple one Sunday around dinner time, I was putting two packs of Winston’s from the vending machine into my pockets when I looked up to see Coach holding the door. He sighed, shook his head and said, Grochowski…. did you have to wear your letter jacket.
He knew they were for my dad, but I certainly violated another rule. And I’m sure I did some laps.
Mrs. Nalley, I really wish you had made meatloaf or something that night.
He used to say he trusted us to not let the team down with violations like that, his favorite saying was
“If I see you coming out of the Squirrel Cage, I’m going to assume you were only in there to get change for the parking meter.”
I learned that if you really wanted to get Coach going, ask him about Johnny, Karla, and Alan as I did in the 1980’s, and again in recent years about his grandkids. Pride always oozed from every pore.
I also took every opportunity to remind him that a batch of his grandkids are Polish.
To summarize Coach considered all Lisle alums, our kids, and grandkids as members of his extended family.
On June 26, the Nalley Foundation will host our annual golf outing and fundraiser. October 15 hundreds and hundreds of alums will be back in Lisle for our fifth “All Year’s Reunion”
Every time the most popular question we get in advance of both events is not about the price, registration details, or location. Easily the most popular question is. “Will Coach be there”?
The answer this year is
“Always and forever”
The Lisle Alumni Blog will feature numerous authors.