After 34 years of coaching, eight with the boys golf program at Waterloo High School, Nancy Neal has decided to step away from coaching.
“It’s going to be weird,” Neal said. “I loved every minute of it.”
In just under a decade, Neal has escalated herself up the coaching ranks, becoming one of the most decorated coaches at WHS in a short period of time.
Neal has racked up numerous trophies and titles, with three state appearances as a team (‘05-’06, ‘09-’10, ‘12-’13), the first one coming in her inaugural year with WHS after previous coach Brian Smith handed over the baton in 2005. She has led the Bulldogs to five Mississippi Valley Conference Championships (‘05,’06, ‘08, ‘09, ‘10), two regional titles (‘05, ‘09) and the program’s first sectional title this past season.
She has also coached five golfers to six state individual trophies (Mitchell Gregson, ‘05-’06; Wils Hawn, ‘08-’09 and ‘09-’10; Johnny Wirth, ‘10-’11; Charles Hawn, ‘12-’13; Clayton Stoker, ‘12-’13)
“Coach Neal built a very competitive program. Not only was she respected by her golfers but respected by coaches and teams throughout the state,” Martha Hawn, who has had two of her sons reach high levels of success through Neal’s WHS golf program, told the Republic-Times. “Because of Coach Neal, Waterloo golf is considered one of the best, most competitive programs in the state.”
Neal attributes her coaching success at Waterloo to the fact she was retired from teaching and coaching junior college volleyball, allowing her to devote most of her time to the Bulldog program.
“I was fortunate to always have great leaders,” Neal said, adding that with an area rich with golf courses it allowed kids in her program or entering the WHS boys golf scene the opportunity to get out and perfect their craft.
“It was fun to always have kids that loved the game so much,” Neal said.
One of those players, Gregson, who is currently playing on the NGA Pro Tour — the third largest U.S. professional golf tour — says she helped push him to the next level his senior year going into college ball at Kansas State.
“She did a wonderful job taking the program to the next level,” Gregson said. “We never really had much of a tournament schedule before she came.”
The decorated coach said it was her job to get those kids exposure and open them up to further opportunities by getting out on good courses and in competitive tournaments.
Before Neal, the Bulldogs boys golf team played in two tournaments during the season. Under her, they now play in six or seven tournaments and she encourages them to get out there on the junior and amateur levels during the summer.
After 34 years of coaching five different sports, Neal says it is the kids that have made it all worth while. She cites “when you have kids that have those great moments,” as her favorite memories. With Waterloo she gives the example of Gregson’s playoff for the state title in 2005 and her team shocking Southern Illinois this year, taking Waterloo golf’s first sectional title as an underdog.
Neal lost her mentor, coach and father unexpectedly at the beginning of this year, leaving a void for her this past golf season. The grandmother of three says it is time for her to spend more time with her family.
“I’m such a family person,” Neal said with nostalgia.
Waterloo currently does not have a candidate for the position, but Neal hopes they can find someone able to put the time in. She also hopes Waterloo can find the means to work with the younger kids as well. This year was the second year she did not have a junior varsity coach after introducing JV to the program just a few years prior.
There have been several local coaching hires and vacancies lately. Below, the Republic-Times breaks down local sports openings by school.
Columbia: Girls golf coach Eric Turner resigned and has been replaced by CHS employee Matt Duguay. First year boys soccer coach Drew Crawford resigned and took a position with McKendree University; Belleville West girls soccer coach Jason Mathenia has been appointed to replace Crawford.
Gibault: Cheerleading coach Robin Spurgeon resigned, as well as girls basketball coach Jill Puckett. Hanna Schuerman replaced junior varsity girls soccer coach Mike Olson for this season.
Dupo: Athletic Director Kraig Roth has stepped down from the position, as he also is the district’s special education director and is a teacher. The school has announced former Gibault girls basketball coach Jill Puckett will be Roth’s replacement. The high school football coach, Kevin Acra, has been replaced by former Alton-Marquette football coach Tim Nelson.