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updated: 2/7/2018 10:51 PM

A new battle for Naperville North's Mazzarella

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  • From left, former Naperville North diving coach Steve Mazzarella, current swim/dive coach Andy McWhirter and former coach Lew Kasten.

    From left, former Naperville North diving coach Steve Mazzarella, current swim/dive coach Andy McWhirter and former coach Lew Kasten.
    Photo courtesy of Naperville North

 
 

For decades Steve Mazzarella has cared for students as a Naperville North health education teacher and diving coach as well as through the leadership development program, Operation Snowball.

Having been recently diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, he now could use some care himself.

"He's just the absolute picture of health, it's really crazy this is happening," said one of his colleagues, Deanna Nesci, who taught alongside him 14 years before Mazzarella retired from Naperville North in 2014.

She described an athletic man nicknamed "Malibu Mazz," a college swimmer and diver, a veteran of 10 marathons.

On Tuesday, however, the 61-year-old began a regimen of radiation and oral chemotherapy treatments Nesci said will be repeated every morning for six weeks. Symptoms -- weakness on the entire left side of his body -- became apparent around the holidays, she said.

The treatments are an attempt to shrink the tumor, whose size and location near Mazzarella's spinal chord prevent surgery. Mazzarella is slowly regaining strength through more than two hours of physical therapy each day.

"It's about wellness and quality of life," Nesci said.

Speaking on Mazzarella's behalf due to the new treatments, she sounded encouraged.

"He's the utmost, most positive person ever, and I think that's the way he's been leading his life in this challenge," she said.

Nesci and fellow Naperville North teachers Renee Billish and Katie Genovesi started a page for Mazzarella on YouCaring.com, seeking donations that can go toward uncovered expenses. In less than a week it has raised more than $25,000 from several hundred supporters. The page has been shared on Facebook more than 2,000 times.

That's a tribute to his impact on the pool deck and in the classroom over 34 years, the same length of time Mazzarella has been married to his wife, Lesly, with whom he has three adult children and two grandchildren. The respect he held as a girls and boys dive coach was mirrored by the fact that he served as a judge at state meets all 34 years.

Nesci marveled at his work with Operation Snowball and 360 Youth Services in Naperville and at the high school, where she said his "advanced health" elective course included topics such as current events, alternative medicines, socioeconomics, mental illness.

Likewise, as Naperville North's longtime adult sponsor, Mazzarella's Operation Snowball sessions maintained an emphasis on strengthening empowerment through alcohol and drug education while evolving to add contemporary health aspects like self-esteem and body image.

"He's taught everyone else to be strong," Nesci said.

She was awestruck by his capacity for love.

"It's immeasurable and it's completely beyond anyone I've ever met in my life," she said. "He just believes in kids, particularly the high school age, and in growing and learning more about themselves and their potential."

Pittsburgh-bound

Three DuPage County prep wrestlers have been selected to participate in the 44th annual Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic. The event, at the University of Pittsburgh's Fitzgerald Field House on March 25, pits a group of national all-stars against Pennsylvania's best prep wrestlers.

Two Montini wrestlers were chosen -- Joey Melendez at 120 pounds and Real Woods at 132. Willowbrook 182-pounder Jack Jessen is the third from Illinois. Illinois Matmen rates all three No. 1 in their classifications.

Carlin Nalley
Carlin Nalley
Lisle's legend

We presumed to suggest to Carlin Nalley that his induction among Lisle High School's inaugural hall of fame class is a no-brainer.

"I don't know about that," he said. "I didn't know the school was going to do all this."

It is. On Friday this humble, generous, funny, upright citizen will be celebrated along with athletes Chris Jones and Jay Grochowski and fine arts representative Jennifer Malenke. The movable induction ceremony starts at 5:15 p.m. in the school library with stops in the auditorium, the gymnasium and finally at the Hyatt Regency Lisle till who knows when.

Jones, out of the Class of 1996, is one of Lisle's greatest athletes and at least its greatest track athlete. The first Illinoisan to win the 400-meter dash four straight years, he added the 800 title as a sophomore.

Grochowski (1977) played four sports all four years in high school when student-athletes did things like that. He was all-Northeast Conference all four years in baseball.

Malenke (1994) "dominated the Fine Arts department from 1992-94," the information from Lisle principal Jeff Howard noted.

Of Nalley, who turns 81 on Feb. 16, that same release stated: "Lisle legends do not come any larger than this."

After teaching science and coaching seven years in his native Kansas -- Nalley met his wife of 58 years, Nancy, at the University of Kansas -- he arrived at Lisle High in 1966, a decade after it opened in the current junior high building. Nancy, who graduated in the last class of the original Proviso Township high in Maywood, came to Northern Illinois to finish her studies, husband in tow.

By 1968 Carlin Nalley was named Lisle athletic director as well as director of the new Lisle Park District. In 1995, two years before he retired, Money Magazine named Lisle Community School District 202 one of the top 100 districts in the country.

During his 30-year career and since Nalley earned a slew of awards, held important state and national positions. From 1980-82 he presided over the Illinois Athletic Directors Association; was named 1984 National High School Coaches Association athletic director of the year; and served as national president in 1986.

He is in the halls of fame of both the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association and the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association. In 16 football seasons his Lions went 96-49 record with seven playoff berths and perfect regular seasons in 1975, 1976 and 1981.

A longtime track and field official, Nalley was the Illinois High School Association's honorary referee in 1997 and one of the IHSA's 2009 officials of the year. Even at 80 he renewed his certification for this season.

Nalley cited basically none of this. He preferred to highlight his three children, John, Karla and Alan. All ran at Lisle, with John Nalley the esteemed boys track coach at Palatine and Karla married to former Conant football coach Bill Modelski.

Then there's the Carlin Nalley Foundation, headed since 2013 by 1985 Lisle graduate John Bartels. Started in 2005, the foundation has awarded more than $140,000 to deserving Lisle seniors.

Nalley said he was in the right place at the right time. Lisle also had the right person.

"I was very fortunate to be able to convince the parents and the Lisle boosters to not just give physical support and their financial support but to actually support the community," he said. "In Lisle until 60 years ago (high school) kids had to go to Downers Grove or Naperville, and it brought the group together."

doberhelman@dailyherald.com

@doberhelman1

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