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Joe Nolan is retiring after beginning his career as an educator and coach in 1967

May 28, 2008
By MIKE MATHISON, sports editor
STEUBENVILLE — Joe Nolan came to Steubenville from Cumberland, Md., in 1963 as a freshman at the then-College of Steubenville.

He is leaving 45 years later.

Nolan is retiring after 41 years in education — one year at Lincoln Elementary, the next 27 in the Indian Creek Local School District and the last 13 at Catholic Central High School.

“Every year I taught, I coached,” said Nolan, who spent the last 35 years as a golf coach.

“I just fell in love with the game from the time I started working at Steubenville Country Club as the caddy master when I was in college. I got to start playing there on Mondays, when they allowed the staff to play, and it just grew from there.

“When the opportunity to coach the sport came about and I took hold of it, it just grew and grew and grew. Here I am 35 years later and I’ve met so many wonderful people and been to so many great places with all the teams I have coached both in the Tri-State Area and throughout the state.

“You just meet so many great people associated with the game of golf.

“The game lends itself to, hopefully, creating a good citizen off the golf course and in the community.

“It teaches kids to be competitive. It teaches them honesty because that’s what the game represents. It teaches them sportsmanship. The three things I asked all my teams all the years that I coached was that they were going to act right, dress right and play the game the right way and I didn’t care what their level of ability was. They all could do that every time they stepped onto a golf course.

“Once in a while you’d have to remind them. Most of the kids who play the game of golf and have played it, really understand those things. Their role models are people they watch on TV and they see those men and women do those things. Obviously, everybody has a little meltdown once in a while but, for the most part, the guys on TV are class guys and the game lends itself to that type of individual.”

Nolan met his future wife, Penny, while he was a junior in college. They have two children, Emily and Ryan, and four grandsons.

“When you’re coaching and you’re out and about, there are a lot of late evenings getting home, mom is cooking a lot of late dinners and washing a lot of extra clothes,” he said. “My wife has been very supportive of that. My family has been very supportive of that and I’ve always appreciated that. They allowed me to do what I love to do and I think that’s all you can ask for in life.

“I really fell in love with Steubenville. It has been great to me and my family. Some of the greatest people I’ve ever met I met right here, going way, way back. John Nese and I became very good friends very early and he is probably one of the best friends that I have in this town today.

“And, my wife being from here, I quickly got to know a lot of people. This is a great place and the people are wonderful. I really have no qualms about staying here for that amount of time.”

Nolan spent his time teaching, among other subjects, government, social studies, civics, geography and world history. He also coached basketball and baseball.

“I had my fill of both of them. I enjoyed my time coaching basketball and baseball,” he said. “I think to be a high school golf coach, you have to be an amateur psychologist because the psyche of a lot of the high school kids is very fragile. As good as they can be one day, they can be that bad the next day. It’s as much in your head as it is anything else.”

Being around for that long, Nolan has seen his share of change.

“There’s been a tremendous change in a lot of ways, some for the better, some for the worse,” he said. “I think the athletes today are much better than they were years ago in many respects — stronger and the talent level, because of camps and things like that, in all sports, has improved the quality of athletics.

“I think we see everybody thinking their youngster is a Division I player and they have to face reality that not every kid is going to be a Division I player — be willing to accept their abilities to play at some level, but not necessarily at the Ohio States or Penn States or Notre Dames, or other schools like that.

“I think there are more external influences today than there were years ago. Certainly, the computer has changed the lifestyle of a lot of kids. For some kids, that has become the main focus of their life rather than getting out and becoming parts of athletics and parts of teams. The computer has its place in the world, but I think it has become somewhat of a substitute for kids maybe wanting to get involved in any type of sport or activity.

“I still think you have your students who are obviously quality athletes as well as quality students. I think it’s always going to be that way. You have those that just are able to put those both together and do very well. I don’t really see an awful lot of difference in the academics. Those that want to do it, do it and those that don’t, for whatever reason, they just sort of mull their way through.

“There’s a lot more opportunities academically as well as there are athletically. You have a lot more advanced classes. The core requirements to get into college as well as the core requirements to exit high school today are even more than they were 41 years ago.”

The biggest change, though, has been with the athlete and the parents.

“This is the modern day and I don’t know if the old school influence would really be that valuable overall to the modern day athlete,” said Nolan. “It’s a different type of individual that we’re dealing with today than it was 40 years ago.

“You had kids years ago that played all three major sports, so to speak. Now, you’re looking at an age of specialization. You just don’t see the three-sport stars today as you did years ago.

“Every sport seems to want 24/7/365 from their individual players and some are getting that. It might be overemphasis, but, again, it depends on the success they’ve had the type of program they want to run.

“You can have overzealousness on the part of the parents, certainly. You always want to have influence from the parents — support and advice. I think that some parents just take it a little bit too far.

“As a result, it just becomes a situation where they put too much pressure on the kid and don’t allow them to enjoy the sport that they are playing. A lot of parents are trying to live vicariously through their children.

“We’re dealing with a different type of athlete and, for lack of better terms, different world situation and different parental situation than we did many, many years ago.

“Years ago when you got chewed out by your coach you went home and got got chewed out by mom and dad. Now, you get chewed out by your coach and the parents come and want to know why you’re chewing their kid out. It’s been just a complete 360.”

After 27 years in the Indian Creek Local School District, Nolan said then, like now, it was time for a change.

“I certainly enjoyed my years at Indian Creek,” he said. “I worked with some great people there. It was just time for a change, just like now is a time for a change for me. It’s time to move on and to go into other adventures.

“It’s bittersweet. I’ve had great support from a lot of people.

“All my life as a youngster growing up, my role models were my parents, my grandfather, who lived with us, as then my teachers and coaches. Those are the people I admired growing up in Maryland. When I came to Steubenville, it was the same way.

“There were great teachers at the college. There were great coaches up there. Ever since I was in the seventh-grade, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher and a coach. I’ve been in the classroom environment and I’ve been on the athletic field or in some field of competition all my life and it’s just been a part of me forever, practically.”

Academics and athletics are different for teachers and coaches.

As a coach, you immediately see the results of your efforts. That’s not always the case as a teacher.

“That’s the rewarding part of coaching and teaching, you see the realization of what you’ve been trying to get across to them,” Nolan said.

“The product that we turn out (academically) is not instantly recognized as having gotten it.

“If you’re looking for instantaneous success, then build a house and you can see the results in six months. In education, it might be six years or 16 years before you actually see the results.”

(Mathison can be contacted at

Article Photos

Mike Mathison
TIME FOR A NEW LIFE — Joe Nolan and his wife Penny are retiring to Medina. The two met in 1965 at the then-College of Steubenville. Nolan has been a teacher for 41 years in the area and a golf coach for the last 35 years — 22 in the Indian Creek school district and the last 13 at Catholic Central High School.

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