The Carter family of Elgin is living proof that athletic leadership begins at home.
The Carters - parents Deryl and Marlene and their adult children, daughters Corry, Katy and son Deryn - have spent their lives playing and/or coaching sports, a legacy to which the second generation continues to add.
The Carters' collective playing resume is impressive; All grew up playing sports and four family members excelled in college athletics.
Deryl, the patriarch, was a talented high school football, basketball and baseball player in Michigan. The Detroit native came to Illinois in the early 1970s to play basketball and run track at North Central College in Naperville, where he met and later married Marlene in 1973. She grew up on a farm in Stillman Valley, Ill. before girls high school sports were an option, but that didn't keep Marlene from competing in summer fastpitch softball leagues.
Together, they produced three children who went on to star in various sports at Larkin High School in the 1990s, two of whom have gone on to become high school basketball coaches.
Corry (Carter) Irvin, a 1992 Larkin graduate, was a standout basketball and softball player. After leading the Royals to a regional title in her senior season, she went on to play basketball on scholarship at Freson State. She began her coaching career at Larkin, moved on to St. Edward for two seasons and later returned to DePaul as an assistant.
Corry left coaching at DePaul due to the travel demands and is now the head coach of the highly successful Whitney Young girls basketball team, a program she has spent nine seasons shaping into a state and national power. Her squads have advanced to the state tournament at Redbird Arena in Normal four of the last five seasons, highlighted by a Class 4A state title in 2008. The Dolphins were the state runner-up in 2009, and placed third in 2005 and 2006.
Whitney Young is currently ranked No. 8 in the country, according to USA Today, and remained undefeated (19-0) heading into Thursday's Windy City Championship game against Bogan. The Dolphins travel to Los Angeles today for a weekend trip that pits them against the No. 4 and No. 5 teams in the USA Today poll.
Katy (Carter) Potts, a 1994 graduate, was a three-sport star for the Royals in volleyball, basketball and softball. Softball was Katy's best sport. She played at DePaul for legendary coach Eugene Lenti and led the Blue Demons to third place at the College World Series in 1999. She was named to the CWS all-tournament team as a catcher and was inducted to the Elgin Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.
Katy has become a coach, of sorts, in her professional career. She is a training officer for the Elgin Police Department in charge of updating her colleagues on laws and new policies in order to help them do their jobs better. "It's not coaching, but I guess when you describe it it sounds a little bit the same," Katy said. She will celebrate her 10th anniversary with the force in March.
The baby of the bunch, Deryn, a 1998 Larkin graduate, was a two-time All-Area basketball player. He finished his high school career with 1,097 points, third on Larkin's all-time scoring list.
Deryn went on to compete at the collegiate level and finished his playing career at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. After six seasons as an assistant coach at UMSL, he returned to Larkin this fall as his high school alma mater's new boys basketball coach.
A glance at the family tree helps explain how three children from the same Elgin family developed into leaders as players and, later, as professionals.
"I think it kind of comes in our family like a natural expectation," Corry said this week before a family dinner at the west-side home Deryl and Marlene have occupied since 1980. "When we were growing up our parents expected us to make our own path. You grow up that way and you just continue to win that way."
The family's coaching bloodlines run deep. Deryl's father coached him in summer baseball in Michigan. Marlene's father coached her brothers' baseball teams in Stillman Valley, and her mother was her summer softball coach, long before the advent of travel leagues.
The couple caught the coaching bug themselves. When the Carter children were young, Deryl ran the leagues at the Channing YMCA in Elgin for seven years and helped expand the program from 40 kids to 600. He later coached in the Junior Royals basketball program, Elgin Little League Baseball, even AAU basketball for a few seasons. He later coached his daughters in softball in the Elgin Continental Little League from the ages of 10-12.
Marlene coached softball for older girls 13 to 15. One of her teams, the Orbits, finished a regular season undefeated and placed third in the state with Katy as a key component. Deryl and Marlene later joined forces to coach Katy's teams between the ages of 16 to 18.
These days Deryl is a fixture on the Whitney Young bench alongside Corry. He joined her staff as an assistant coach in her second season in 2002-03. Dad has been a trusted sounding board ever since. Corry's husband, Mack Irvin, is also a member of the Whitney Young staff. "It's a real family affair," Deryl said with a satisfied smile.
Deryl's coaching style is laid back, whereas, Marlene always implemented a no-nonsense, "get-in-your-face" approach, Corry said. However, the Carter siblings agree their parents shared some key coaching traits that shaped the children's approach to competing and, eventually, coaching.
"I think the two most important things they taught us were a competitive desire to win and how to instill that into other people because I think that's hard," Corry said. "Both of my parents are extremely competitive. Somehow taking that kind of competitiveness and trying to instill that into someone else takes a lot of time. The biggest thing they taught me was how to instill in someone else that desire to win and the desire to compete."
"I think my parents, more than anything, taught us their mental approach to the game," Deryn said. "Whether they were coaching basketball, softball or baseball, I really grasped that and really gravitated to it. It just came natural to me to go ahead and get into coaching."
'Work hard all the time'
Deryl and Marlene's coaching philosophies centered on getting a full effort from their players in every practice, every game and in the classroom, particularly their own children.
"As they were growing up and we coached them, Marlene and I both pushed the kids to work hard all the time," Deryl said. "We wanted them to understand that in order to have success you had to be extremely good at the basics, whether it's sports or academics. You can't slide on that.
"I think our personalities were always ones of winning - not sacrificing hard work and knowing that you are going to lose - and how you treat losing along with winning and keeping it all in perspective. We always wanted to win and worked hard enough to win. Do that and the winning somehow will just come naturally."
"If you worked hard enough to win, you can accept it if you lose. If you slight yourself and you lose, you're not going to feel good about yourself."
The competitive instinct inherent in the Carter children sometimes had to be reined in for the sake of family preservation, especially when it came to pickup basketball games on the mini half-court in the backyard.
"There was a summer or two when we were younger that our parents wouldn't let us play each other," Deryn remembers with a laugh. "I didn't like losing at all, especially to my sister. We've always been competitive. We would go out to the backyard and play a lot. Both of my sisters would get out there and we would all fight."
Such sibling squabbles faded with maturity, of course, but their competitive drive remains. Watching Corry and Deryn direct their respective teams at Whitney Young and Larkin is to watch a study in controlled intensity. Neither accepts less than a full effort and neither minces words when such effort is not put forth.
"Corry's a tough coach," Deryl said. "It's funny because when kids first meet her they don't know how to take her. But she expects kids to give their best all the time and work hard for it. She pushes the academics. I don't think people realize how hard she pushes the academics. When the kids do study hall, they don't get a break.
"All the girls love her and everyone in our program loves her, but they know she's not an easy one. She doesn't take a lot of BS or excuses. She's good that way."
Marlene believes Corry and Deryn can't help but give back as coaches because it's in their nature.
"They like working with kids, having some kind of influence on where they're headed," Marlene said. "I think a lot of the reason why Corry went into coaching was being able to give to kids what she thought a coach should do, which is a whole lot more than on-the-court stuff.
"I think anyone that's part of a team, whether it's a debate team or a basketball team, you get something out of working with a group toward the same goal. I think that's why they coach."
Deryn's program at Larkin is a work in progress as the first-year coach not only implements new systems but tries to instill a winning attitude at all levels. The Royals started the season 7-3 but have since hit a 10-game losing skid.
Corry can relate. Whitney Young had won just 10 games the season before she arrived at the Chicago magnet school. The Dolphins finished 18-10 in her first season before the program took off the following year. Corry's teams have since lost only 28 games, giving her a career record in eight-plus seasons of 231-38 (.859 winning percentage).
She advises her little brother to remain patient.
"I just told him the first year is rebuilding and just getting your system in and getting a different attitude change," Corry said. "I've been talking to him about that and getting the kids to buy into a whole new system and understand what it's going to take to change the program.
"I've watched one or two of their games, and I get updates from my dad and Deryn. I think they're getting better, but when you take a program over your measurements of success are small and short. A lot of people want to see wins right away, but you know you're not going to see wins right away. That's what happened with me. You've got to measure your success almost day by day."
Deryl occasionally offers philosophical advice to his son as he tries to rebuild a Larkin program that went 9-45 in the two seasons before his arrival. For now, Deryl is just happy to have Deryn and his family back in Elgin. He said restoring Larkin to boys basketball prominence won't happen overnight.
"Larkin needed a change, not only in the basketball program but in all of its athletics," Deryl said. "I think I can say that because my kids were there and I've seen how much it's changed since my kids were there.
"So, I was happy Deryn was coming back, and I knew he was going to have some struggles this year, no doubt about it. It's not only about talent - and I think those kids do have some talent - but to learn to win is sometimes hard to teach. And these kids have been taught not how to win. They look to me like they've been taught to play a little bit but not how to win, what you have to do to go about winning and be successful.
"I think next year's group, by the end of this year, will learn how to win and they'll be OK."
With a natural born leader from the coaching Carter family pointing the way, Larkin fans should expect nothing less than success in the years to come.