Never a typical day: How Huntley sports family balances work, play
When Mike and Karen Naymola retire to their Anna Maria Island beachfront villa on Florida's Suncoast, they can spend their free time writing a book.
An appropriate title? How about "Coaching Red Raiders: Building a Family Legacy"
Until then Mike, Huntley's second-year head football coach, and his wife Karen, now in her 11th year as the Red Raiders' head girls volleyball coach, plan to keep writing chapters of success in their respective programs.
OK, so stories about husbands and wives who coach are fairly common, right? Well, yes, but you don't run across many who coach a high-leverage sport in the same season, and with daughters playing volleyball for their mom, too.
First, we'll lay out some quick history of Mike, a 2000 Rolling Meadows High School graduate who played at Rockford College, and Karen, a 1999 Cary-Grove product who played at Eastern Illinois.
Before taking over the Huntley program, Mike was an assistant coach for 10 years. His first Huntley team as a head coach went 8-2 and qualified for the Class 8A playoffs. The Red Raiders are 5-1 so far this season. Mike is also is on the track and field coaching staff. Karen is in her 11th season as the head girls volleyball coach, after eight years at Hampshire, where she coached the Whip-Purs to second in Class 2A in 2007. At Huntley, her teams are perennial powers, and this year the Red Raiders are currently 12-0.
Mike and Karen are parents to three daughters -- Abby and Izzy Whitehouse, born during Karen's first marriage, and Kylie Naymola, a seventh-grader. All three are volleyball players, with Abby and Izzy both seeing some court time on the Huntley varsity team this season.
Mike and Karen met at Huntley High School in 2010. Mike had been hired to teach and coach under John Hart, while Karen had just taken over the Red Raiders' program from Michelle Jakubowski, now the highly successful coach at Barrington, whose husband, Andy, is the ultrasuccessful head baseball coach at Huntley.
Mike and Karen will be married 10 years next June. They both teach physical education at Huntley.
Living the dream, Naymola style
Not a single day is what you'd call typical in the Naymola's home.
"If we're lucky enough to all be home with no extracurricular activities it's pretty chill," Mike says. "The girls, like most teens, enjoy relaxing on their phones or watching something on TV. This year both Abby and Izzy have done a great job staying on top of their school work despite having little free time with their schedules. They both come home from volleyball matches, eat something quickly, do some homework, get cleaned up and go to bed. Everyone is usually pretty tired at the end of the days in-season. Karen usually has dinners planned on Sundays so that helps make the weeks easier. The girls have their routines; I just need to stay outta the way."
Karen says none of the family's life would be manageable without the help of her parents -- Bill, a longtime IHSA volleyball official, and Catherine -- and Mike's parents, Stan and Donna.
"My parents typically come and watch our youngest daughter, Kylie, before school and then after school," Karen said. "During volleyball season it's a lot, but we couldn't do it without their help. My mom will even make dinner for us a couple nights and help with stuff around the house. Mike's parents typically come twice a week and get Kylie on the bus or off the bus. We also have a graduate student that helps us a couple days or when needed. We definitely have to rely on all of them. In October when varsity volleyball tournaments start, that's the hardest, because Mike obviously coaches, and then has things Saturday mornings so Kylie will typically have some fun sleepovers those days.
"Nongame days are the easiest. We usually get home around 5:30/6. And dinner is done (crockpot) or I made something on Sunday for the week. So we do usually get to eat dinner as a family on the nongame days. Then it's homework, and get ready for school/ work the next day. I usually have to play Barbies or American Girl dolls with Kylie. Sunday is typically family day. We try to do something fun for Kylie, especially on those days. First weekend it was the zoo, this weekend miniature golfing (which I won BTW!; I beat Mike by one stroke). Apple picking. Just try to make the most of our limited free time."
According to Abby, the days with no volleyball are few and far between.
"A typical day with no volleyball usually consists of just relaxing and catching up on homework or laying in the pool or going to the store when we don't have games," she said. "It's rare, so we use that time to just relax and recharge."
Coaching and working together
Mike and Karen may coach different sports and genders but some things have to be general in nature, right? Or, do they leave it all at school?
"I enjoy talking to Karen about her games when she gets home and has a moment to catch her breath," Mike says. "As for talking shop, we leave each other alone in that field. She's been a head coach for a long time and I've admired the way she's been able to always get her teams to play with energy. It comes from her practice tempo, it simulates game situations. I have been able to observe her the past 12 years and I've picked up a few things along the way."
Karen watches her husband's coaching style as well.
"He likes to steal all my ideas," she joked. "But there are definitely times he has done something and I like it or try to use it for volleyball. We talk about the game typically after, but then for the most part, we try not to let it take up the whole conversation. People tease about working with your husband. But I wouldn't have it any other way. It's nice having him at work and we joke that we get to see each other more at work than at home during the fall.
"That's probably the hardest part of both of us coaching. The older two are always around me and we are together during the season. It's making time for Kylie so she doesn't feel left out. Game days are busy but Kylie and Mike come to as many as they can, or my dad will come and bring Kylie. He enjoys watching the games and obviously knows volleyball well so he likes to critique the team and watch his granddaughters. "
Challenges, for sure
"The month of October I will realistically not even be able to watch a football game," said Karen, who has also coached club volleyball for 12 years. "I follow his games with the live link. I can watch from anywhere this year. In the past I would follow on social media or have my friends who are at the game text me updates."
Abby and Izzy enjoy the ride they are currently on.
"Being the coach's daughter does not change how we are treated or our expectations," Izzy says. "In fact, most of the time we are the last to hear about things because my mom doesn't want us to have any special treatments. So like our theme this year, she kept a surprise. Sure, some people probably assume we get special treatment being the kids of the coach, but anyone who knows our mom knows that she is in it to win it, so she does not play favorites and she sure doesn't give special treatment.
"Having her as a coach is fun because she is a good coach. She makes each kid feel important and part of the program. She pushes us to be better volleyball players every day in practice. We get to see her as a coach and also see her as a role model and that is really fun and exciting. She also does a really good job of not bringing her coaching home with her. She will talk to us as a coach after games, and maybe say one thing to each of us in the car, but then she drops volleyball and we focus on school and other things."
"Being the coach's daughter definitely comes with its up and downs. It is definitely difficult to make sure I'm always at my top performance to make sure I show that I made the team because of my skill, not my connection to the coach. It is also very fun to be the coach's daughter. We obviously have her to help us through the whole experience of our volleyball careers. Also, this is my first year of actually playing high school for mom and seeing up front all the hard work and dedication she puts into the program and our team. We knew her as Mom and Coach but now it's more OUR coach and Mom."
Mike says football isn't much a part of their home life.
"I don't talk football much at home for a few reasons but mainly because the girls don't see me as the football coach as much as the guy who keeps telling them to put their stuff away," he said. "It's humbling being in a house with four girls. It's easier to run a football team than it is to help raise three girls and keep the wife happy ... or at least try to. I learned quickly that the 'happy wife, happy life' line is all too true."