My seventh grade year, I hated basketball. Tall and awkward, I didn't know how to use my size, strength or really how to play the game at all.
At the time, Mike Connelly was the eighth grade coach at Xavier, yet both the seventh and eighth grade teams practiced together.
During one practice, Connelly decided that none of us knew how to box out. So, he stepped right in front of me and boxed me out so hard, it felt like I flew clear across the court.
He then proceeded to do it to everyone so we would understand what we were aiming for when boxing out. We all laughed and thought it was the funniest thing we had ever seen, a grown man boxing out all of us kids.
But I can tell you if there was one thing that I never forget when playing basketball, it was how to box out.
Earlier this summer, Mike Connelly retired his post as head boys' basketball coach at Immaculata and within the school system's administration. It marked the end of an era for an incredibly devoted and passionate man.
He's zealous about Immaculata High School and Xavier Elementary. He's avid about athletics and about winning. He's ardent about his student athletes and their studies.
In all of these things, he succeeded in greatly because of the time he devoted and the passion he put into everything he did.
"I turned 66 on July 8 and I figured it was time," Connelly said. "It's never easy to give up something you love, but sometimes you get to the point where it's time for someone else to take over."
Connelly started in 1980 as the Imac wrestling coach, before moving onto girls' basketball, and then from 1984-2000 he was the head boys' basketball coach. During this time he took the Raiders to sub-state finals 11 times, state seven times and placed fourth in 1999, third in 1994 and second in 1991.
He coached volleyball from 1984-1999 and took his teams to state 10 times, earning two third place trophies, a fourth and a championship in 1991.
Connelly also coached the golf team that earned a state championship in 1993. He was an assistant football coach, head wrestling coach, assistant and head track coach, head golf coach, head boys' basketball coach, head girls' basketball coach and head and assistant volleyball coach.
For over three decades, he racked up quite the résumé. But for the longtime Raiders coach, it was about a lot more than just statistics.
"Besides the relationships you build with the coaches, it's obviously the kids I'll miss the most," Connelly said. "If I start naming them, I'll leave somebody out. They were absolutely fabulous to work with. They wanted to win. They came to practice and wanted to be the best they could be."
Page 2 of 2 - When I was in middle school I used to pester coach with questions, asking him everything from how to shoot a free throw to why he would always wear his shiny, black shoes.
Every time, coach would patiently answer all of my questions and then continue to teach me in whatever we were doing because that's just who he is; an incredibly caring guy who coached the students to the best of their abilities in far more than just sports.
During my time at Immaculata, Connelly was the principal my freshman year, the head boys' basketball coach and the assistant volleyball coach.
He always wanted to make sure things were going well with the students in their lives and emphasized school above all else.
"And that's what I'll miss the most, that interaction with the student-athletes," Connelly said. "And at Immaculata, they are student-athletes. I think we won a lot of games, maybe not because of our athleticism, but because of our smarts."
The man always went the extra mile to find ways to help out students with schoolwork, and could always be found in good company with other teachers and coaches.
"Immaculata is an absolutely fabulous place to work," Connelly said. "I've worked with nothing but great people while there. You build relationships. I made some amazing ones with Pat Moran, Danny Schmidt, Lisa Lentz and many more."
Although Connelly's replacement, Bronson Schaake, has big shoes to fill, the Immaculata family will support the new family member while also recalling our fond memories of our good friend Mike Connelly.
He has impacted every Raider that walked through the school's halls in some way, whether it be the times spent with him out on the court, in the classroom or simply just talking about how blessed we truly are.
Luckily for Raider nation he is not completely gone, nor will he ever be, for I don't think we could get rid of him even if we tried.
"I'll volunteer every chance I get at Imac and help anyone who wants it." Connelly said. "They say I bleed green. Well, it's time to show that and continue to support this great school."