Because modesty and humility were dominant traits of the man’s character, his brilliance and mastery with respect to the fine art of coaching went unnoticed by virtually all — including, and most notably of all, the local press.
Of course, WE knew the truth and nothing but. I mean, hey, considering all that time out there on the practice field…how could we not? We were, after all, HIS players.
No, the local press never gave Mr. Nagle anywhere near the respect he deserved for the job he did with the soccer program at William Allen High School.
In part, it was Mr. Nagle’s own fault. He was the first to tell anyone who would listen he was just a basketball coach who needed something to do in the off-season. But that was always just a cover story.
Mr. Nagle was every inch the natural competitor. To watch him playing basketball or flicker-football or what have you in the gym at William Allen High School everyday was always something else. Going up against kids half his age who are just starting to find their physical footing and mental confidence was to watch a man, genuinely, in all his glory.
“Yeah, I get paid to play with kids all day,” Mr. Nagle once told the blog. “But that’s what I went to school for – I planned this. Nothing is stopping you from choosing the same career.”
And, therein, lay another big feature of the man’s character. The sincere desire to help young men find a good and honorable path on their travels down the road called life. In fact, Mr. Nagle often told the team there were many, many far worse activities to be involved with than sports.
One long-standing policy spoke volumes : So long as attendance at practice and adherence to team regulations was maintained, no player would ever be cut from the program no matter how severe the shortage of skill and/or usefullness.
And, Mr. Nagle was not necessarily the most best person for college coaches to speak to, either.
“I will lie like hell to get any kid into school,” Mr. Nagle once stated off the record while explaining that, although he fully understood it was a college coach’s job to find the most skillful players possibly, it was certainly part of his responsibility as a high school coach to help his players better themselves, as well.
But, again, make no mistake. The man was, at heart, a competitor who wanted to win, too, and used his talents and training as an instructor to teach us how to win. And we won — a lot.
In my four years with Mr. Nagle in the mid-1980s, William Allen never failed to make the District playoffs. Indeed, the team qualified for the post-season in my senior year by the skin of its teeth. This was, at the time, viewed as a bit of a disastrous year for the program!
One of Mr. Nagle’s great on-field accomplishments that no one ever seems to mention when reviewing his career is the fact that he is the coach who halted the 55-game East Penn Conference winning streak of the wildly successful Freedom High School from Bethlehem, who were state champions in 1984.
Unlike the other perennial playoff sqauds of the era, such as Freedom and its intra-city rival Liberty or, perhaps, Emmaus — Allen never had any sort of youth programs inside the city feeding players into the high school structure. The team never, ever, had any sort of numbers to speak of even in that era and things would only worsen throughout the next decade. Maximizing minimums and making the best with what is on hand was always the way it was proudly done with Mr. Nagle in charge.
Mr. Nagle taught us all sorts of invaluable things aside from it is no big deal to be outnumbered. We learned it is not the size of the tiger in the fight, but rather the size of the fight in the tiger. We learned that hustle on a consistent basis can oftentimes topple what some refer to as “God-given” talent.
And we were expected to hustle because Mr. Nagle was always very much a reality-based coach — “This is not the Church League” was a constant reminder there was an obligation to give genuine effort at attaining results.
We were told not to expect any help from anybody, least of all the referees. In fact, we were told we would need to make plays to overcome their bad calls, which were to be expected. Perhaps the greatest lesson Mr. Nagle always tried to drive home was that life is not really fair but if one understands that and adjusts accordingly it is possible for the story to have a happy ending.
“Sometimes in life, you have to make your own luck,” Mr. Nagle would repeat over and over like some sort of broken record.
We were told were we going to take some shots and suffer setbacks. We were told that, sometimes, we were going to have to play hurt. And, every bit if not more importantly, were learned something of mental toughness and intestinal fortitude.
The King of Intangibles, that is always how I looked at Mr. Nagle from a coaching standpoint; he understood a lot about the momentum of a match and other such details that transcended simple strategies and tactics.
And, I was always of the opinion that Freedom, had it wanted, could have propped up a cardboard cutout of a coach at the touchline and still won as many championships — the Patriots always had plenty of skillful players constantly about town anyway.
Perhaps the most telling part of Mr. Nagle’s legacy is to look at some of the products of his program. One dude went off to Greece to play a few seasons of professional ball — last time I checked, the same guy was now a policeman in the City of Allentown. As for me — well, I never won a Nobel Peace Prize for anything but, then again, I’m not doing three consecutive life-terms in San Quentin, either.
As for the soccer, it is interesting to note that suburban Parkland High School emerged as a powerhouse for both boys and girls in the 1990s and remains a dominant program to this day; the architect of all that is a man named CHRIS BLEAM — a graduate of and former player at William Allen High School.
And then there is FC Sonic Lehigh Valley, a team in the National Premier Soccer League sponsored by major American fast-food chain Sonic Drive-In who play their home games at Lehigh University in Bethlehem. The head coach there would be DAVE WEITZMAN, who previously was in charge at of the boys at Parkland High School and the NPSL’s Pennsylvania Stoners. So, where did Weitzman go to school and for whom did he play?
Bingo — Barry Nagle and William Allen High School.