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After 40 years, Barrington youth basketball coach steps off the court: ‘I loved every minute of it’

After 40 years, Barrington youth basketball coach steps off the court: ‘I loved every minute of it’

After 40 years, Barrington youth basketball coach steps off the court: ‘I loved every minute of it’

  • Posted by Barrington Hills
  • On March 18, 2021

Dave Nelson retired from coaching basketball March 12 after 40 years at Hough Street Elementary School in Barrington.

After his last game that Friday afternoon, Nelson received a basketball signed by fifth grade boys basketball coaches across Barrington School District 220 – which Hough Street is part of. Families also said thank you with balloons and signs.

To Nelson, who mentored approximately 1,000 boys over his four decades of volunteering as a basketball coach, he leaves the game with myriad stories to tell, including from the 1998 season.

That year, Nelson recruited a student from the school’s gifted program to play basketball. The coach recalls the boy tell him that he was more poised for success in the classroom and not so much on the court. But he went on to join the team anyways.

But the boy never scored a basket during games, the coach recalled. By the season’s end, stands were packed.

“We didn’t have enough room in the gym,” Nelson said. “They wanted him to score a basket.”

When the boy finally made a basket, “the gym went nuts,” the coach said. The boy went on to proclaim in middle school that his biggest accomplishment at that time was playing on the elementary school basketball team.

“I tear up when I think of it. … It was about the team,” said Nelson, his voice cracking with emotion. “Winning isn’t everything.”

Well-wishers presented retiring Hough Street Elementary School fifth grade basketball coach Dave Nelson with applause, balloons and signs of gratitude March 12, 2021 in Barrington. Nelson retired from coaching after 40 years with the Barrington school’s team. (Karie Angell Luc / Pioneer Press)

Other players credit their former coach.

Connor Baird, a Barrington High School freshman, and his brother, Adam, an eighth-grader at Barrington Middle School-Station Campus, play on their respective school basketball teams.

“Mr. Nelson made basketball fun for everyone,” Connor Baird said. “He focused on everyone, not just the best players. He made sure that having fun was the most important thing.”

Adam Baird recalls the chant the team would do when after getting back on defense.

“We would slap the ground and yell ‘Hough Hawks!’,” he said.

Jack Thornton, 18, who now lives in Pittsburgh, said his former coach “truly cared.

“My father passed away at the beginning of my fifth grade year,” Thornton said. Coach Nelson approached my mom and asked if there was anything that he could do for me or for her. Acts like these show his pure outward inclination for kindness.”

Coach Dave Nelson was given a ceremonial basketball March 12, 2021 that was signed by fifth grade boys basketball coaches across Barrington School District 220, a gift to the Hough Street Middle School boys basketball coach for his retirement. Nelson retired from coaching after 40 years with the school team. (Karie Angell Luc / Pioneer Press)

Hough Street Elementary School Principal Zach Ernst called it “amazing” to hear what people say Nelson has done for the community over the years.

Nelson, a retired investment advisor, was a Barrington village board trustee starting in 1977. Then he served four years as Barrington village president, his term ending in 1989. The coach was also Cuba Township supervisor from 1996 to 2017. There is a sign along a Cuba Road prairie thanking Nelson for his township elected service.

He served on multiple philanthropic boards and has a brick gazebo named for him in a park at Hough and Main Streets, officials explained.

He and his wife Carol Nelson have three adult children – Claire, Brooke, and Dylan – all of whom attended Hough Elementary School and played basketball, and several grandchildren.

Nelson grew up in St. Charles and met his wife while both of them attended St. Charles High School. He said they were high school sweethearts.

A 1965 St. Charles High School graduate, he played basketball for the school’s Fighting Saints where he was team captain his senior year.

For the first 20 years, Nelson coached sixth grade boys at Hough Street until the middle school system changed. The last half of his coaching career, Nelson coached fifth grade. He said a Hough Street principal had asked him to coach – initially for only one year. He ended up staying 39 more.

“I loved every minute of it,” Nelson said. “It’s been a great experience for me. Winning is not as important as just enjoying the game, good sportsmanship. We never worried about wins or losses, we just cared about enjoying a great game of basketball and learning.”

Nelson said he commuted to Chicago for work for two decades of those coaching years, then his work location changed to Barrington.

“The fact that I never missed a game, I never missed a practice, to a lot of people is surprising,” Nelson said. “It was very important for me to be there. I was the only coach, so if I didn’t show up, no one showed up.”

His final game for the Hough Hawks ended in an overtime loss.

“We had a fun time, that was the main thing,” Nelson said post-game Friday.

Now retired, he said he plans to travel more to see family.

“I just felt this was a good time to say ‘so long’ and everybody has been very supportive,” he said. “I’ve had a good run.”

Karie Angell Luc is a freelancer.