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.”
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.”
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.