A positive culture at Elgin is just what 'Doc' ordered

In his final season coaching Elgin girls basketball, Nick Bumbales has the same goal he's brought to every season.

"My goal hasn't changed. I still try to create a positive experience for the kids," said Bumbales, in his 15th year.

"I want to finish on a high note, which we're going to regardless of the wins and losses. I'm really big on the culture thing."

Known as "Doc," Bumbales studied to become a chiropractor at National University of Health Sciences in Lombard. For the first 21 of his 36 years at Elgin he served as a team physician for all Maroons sports before he earned teaching certification.

Bumbales has coached in seven Elgin programs and also is 1-0 as Maroons varsity baseball coach, leading the 2004 team after the head and assistant coaches got ejected the day before.

"He's a lifer here," said Elgin athletic director Paul Pennington.

Bumbales, 59, will teach physics for five more years. Though it was a hard decision, to simultaneously stop both coaching and teaching would be too much of a shock to his system.

On Oct. 30 he told his players this would be it.

"It's about them," said Bumbales, a Merrillville, Indiana, native who lives in St. Charles. "Now it's my last season, but it's a couple of the kids' last seasons, too. I'm trying to make sure it goes well for everyone."

So far, so good. Tuesday's win over South Elgin had the Maroons at 4-1 entering Friday's Upstate Eight Conference game at Fenton.

It's a group paced by seven seniors, including the first four-year team captain in school history, Jocelyn Bardesi.

And yes, because Bumbales is a people person it'll be a rewarding season regardless of record.

"He provides a positive space for them to just to be a kid," said Pennington, a 1991 Elgin graduate.

"Too many times I think that the pressure mounts for our kids to just win at all costs. I think there's a special attention to detail in which he's tried to instill a process and tried to instill care.

"Sometimes that doesn't come with wins, but I think if you ask any of the kids who've been coached by him, he's concerned with the well-being of a student-athlete more than the win at all costs," Pennington said.

Over the years seven of Bumbales' former players have returned to his coaching staff. Assistant Scott Stewart has been with him all 15 seasons.

Three former Maroons are on staff this season: volunteer assistant Ali Reynolds, freshman coach Katie (Quick) Spets, and junior varsity coach Kassie Rife, her eighth year in the program.

"It gets me a little emotional knowing this is his last year, actually. It's hard to imagine a program without Doc," said Rife, who choked up talking about it.

A 2012 graduate, Rife has gone through the stages with Bumbales - coach, mentor, colleague, friend.

"The biggest thing is we are not just a team but a family, and Doc has shown that through all these years," Rife said.

The coaching legends among his friends, past and present - a shortlist includes Mike Bailey, Jim Harrington, Gordie Kerkman, Gene Pingatore, Jim Roberts, even York's Joe Newton at Bumbales' first job out of St. Joseph's College - attest to his leadership in life-changing ways.

Bumbales credits his wife, Cristine, and adult daughter, Taylor, for their support. Because of course he would.

"I've really kind of had the 'Forrest Gump' life," he said. "I've just walked into fabulous people who've helped me along the way."

DAILY HERALD FILE PHOTONick Bumbales instructs a player in practice in his first season as Elgin girls basketball coach in 2009.
DAILY HERALD FILE PHOTOElgin girls basketball coach Nick Bumbales observes from the sideline during a 2016 game against Larkin.
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