ESHOF to honor Nemmers with Lifetime Achievement Award

By Mike Miazga
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 10/30/2014 9:07 PM
  • Former Elgin High School principal Larry Nemmers, now an NFL referee, will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Elgin Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday.

    Former Elgin High School principal Larry Nemmers, now an NFL referee, will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Elgin Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday. Photo courtesy Larry Nemmers

There's that adage that when one door closes, another opens.

In the case of retired Elgin High School Principal Larry Nemmers, one huge door got shut in his face and two even bigger life-changing doors opened for him.

Nemmers, an Iowa native who starred as a running back and safety at Upper Iowa University, tried out for the Chicago Bears in 1965.

"I got cut," said Nemmers, a three-sport athlete for a time at Upper Iowa who was named little-All-America in football there. "I had to find a job."

That job ended up being in education, which put in motion a 30-year career in Elgin Area School District U-46. Nemmers also began officiating a variety of youth and high-school sports, which over time led him to even greater heights in that avocation, culminating with a 17-year run as an NFL referee and crew chief complete with three Super Bowl appearances.

Nemmers' officiating accomplishments will be honored when he receives the 2014 Elgin Sports Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award. Nemmers will be honored at the Hall's annual banquet and awards dinner in the Heritage Ballroom at The Centre of Elgin Sunday night.

"The award means a lot to me," Nemmers said from his Springfield, Mo., home earlier in the week. "It's a tremendous honor. I'm very humbled to get an award such as this."

Nemmers said an award of this nature wasn't earned alone.

"In any leadership capacity whether it's being an NFL referee or Elgin High School principal, I've been surrounded by good people," he said. "These are people who do good things and have great skills. If you are around those types of people you will be successful. I've been surrounded by good people."

Nemmers started his U-46 career as a science teacher at Kimball Middle School in Elgin. He later became an assistant principal at Larkin before taking the reins at Elgin High in 1982. He was Elgin's principal from 1982 to 1994.

"Elgin was my home for 30 years," said Nemmers, a Springfield resident the last 20 years. "It's the longest I've lived in one place. The people in the Elgin, Bartlett, Streamwood U-46 area are tremendous people. I was extremely fortunate to spend my career there. I've always said the schools in U-46 prepare young adults for the real world. U-46 is a good place to get an education and I'm proud to been a part of that for 30 years."

Nemmers coached at Kimball for three years and later helped legendary Larkin football coach Ray Haley during summer practices. One of the players on the Larkin team during that run was Mike Armentrout, who Nemmers recently saw at the funeral of a friend.

Nemmers also dabbled in semipro football for a time, playing with the Joliet Chargers and the Chicago Owls.

"I was making $200 a game," he said. "I thought I was rich because I was making $350 a month take-home teaching a month."

Nemmers first cut his officiating teeth his junior year in college. He got his first football break as the fourth official on a local Iowa high school crew.

When he got to Elgin, he hooked up with the Elgin Officials Association where he praised the help he received from the likes of officials such as Wally Wetzel and Dan Davey.

"They treated me well there," said Nemmers. "They taught me a lot and it was a very professional operation. I worked my way up from pee-wee football at Huff Field where I was making $2 a game to working high school games. The crew I worked on set the tone for me with dedication and rules mechanics. We would meet weekly outside of the games and go over points of emphasis. They set the tone for me to do what I was able to do in football down the road."

Nemmers, 71, later worked college games, including in the Big Ten Conference, before beginning his successful run in the NFL.

This year marks Nemmers' 30th season as an NFL official. He retired from the field at the age of 65 and now is in his seventh season as a replay booth official. Last Saturday he was in Nashville at LP Field for the Titans-Texans tilt, which featured the former Houston Oilers franchise against the current Houston NFL team.

Nemmers, who was an NFL referee and crew chief for 17 years and a side judge for six years, worked Super Bowls 25, 35 and 46. He said total retirement may be forthcoming in the upcoming years.

"I'll be 72 next year. It's about time to hang it up," he said.

Nemmers said despite the fact he's up in the booth now, his dedication and preparation for his officiating craft hasn't changed one bit.

"Even though I'm in the replay booth, I'm still studying and reading," said Nemmers, who is the official the on-field referee talks to when he looks under the replay hood. "I constantly read the rule book and the case book. I'll take one rule a night and go over and over it. The NFL sends a test out every week. I take the test. I also help the young officials out."

Nemmers noted current NFL referees such as Jeff Triplette, Bill Leavy, Walt Anderson, Tony Corrente and Carl Cheffers worked on his crew at one point. Cheffers took over Nemmers' referee spot when he moved upstairs.

"I've worked with some great NFL officials," he said.

Nemmers said he's been fortunate to be able to enjoy both of his passions for so long.

"My vocation always was education," he said. "My avocation was officiating. It's been nice to have an avocation that you like so much and have been successful in."

Nemmers will have good friend Denny Freund in attendance at the banquet. Nemmers and Freund worked the 1980 Class AA boys' basketball state championship game between Effingham and Chicago Manley.

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