When the Nemerows get together, it can be as much a coaches’ clinic as a family visit. They’re the Waltons with whistles, the Bradys with ball bags, the Huxtables in high-tops.
All four children are Prince William County school teachers, and both parents are retired Prince William teachers. The father, Larry, daughter Rebecca Tillett and eldest sons Daniel and Nate all are head soccer or basketball coaches, each at a different high school in the county. Some students have been taught by three members of the family.
“Kevin Bacon, except the Nemerows,” joked youngest son Jonah during one of the family’s Sunday night dinners, using the Hollywood “six degrees” game to link anyone in his family to just about any area student.
No links, however, are stronger than the ones the Nemerows have forged with each other, ties strengthened first from tagging along to their dad’s games, then playing their own and in the past decade from coaching, often on the same staffs. Nate describes the interwoven family as being in a “perpetual state of Thanksgiving.”
At gatherings at Larry and wife Lynn’s home on a leafy cul-de-sac in the Lake Jackson community, the coaches swap tactics and team management skills as if they were Tupperware, each person contributing some coaching nugget or taking home some instructional morsel to feed to their players.
The Nemerow think tank yields winning results. Teams coached by Rebecca, Larry and Nate all have won regular season and district tournament titles in the past four months. Rebecca’s Forest Park girls’ basketball team reached the state tournament for the third time in four years. Larry, the 2001 All-Met boys’ soccer Coach of the Year, has guided Osbourn Park to six state berths and two runner-up finishes. Nate, in his third season as boys’ soccer coach at Brentsville, has led his Tigers to a 44-9-1 mark during his tenure headed into this week.
“The array of advice and ideas that I have at my disposal at dinner on Sundays is unfair to other people,” said Daniel, boys’ basketball coach at new Prince William school Patriot, which opens this fall. In his one season as boys’ basketball coach at Brentsville, Daniel last winter coaxed the Tigers to eight wins, more than the previous three seasons combined.
And when his season ended, he started helping out at his sister’s practices. Pooling resources is the Nemerow way. They plan the family beach trip and other vacations around summer camp schedules.
“One of us gets something,” Larry, 59, said excitedly, “or learns something, or realizes something, or tries something, or remembers something that one of us did 10 years ago and forgot about and then all of a sudden I’ll get a text or a call and they’ll say: ‘Hey, Dad, remember this? I just did that and it did this.’ And I’m going to myself, man, I haven’t done that in five years. I’m doing it tomorrow. Then it just seeps through all of us.”
A coaching discussion can spring up at any time with the Nemerows, because as Daniel’s wife, Michelle, says, “There is never an offseason in that house.”
Conversations intersect and diverge. Voices raise and lower. Jabs are absorbed and dished out. Jonah says that when he dines with his fiancee’s family, a party of 20, they can hear each other chew. But when he dines with as few as six Nemerows, he can’t hear himself think.
It’s the same sort of yakety-yak that used to take place during epic family games of Cranium and Scrabble, some of which had to be halted when emotions bubbled over.
“It’s become less about competing with one another,” Daniel said, “than helping one another compete individually.”
Rebecca, 34, is considered the bossiest; she was once issued a T-shirt that said: “Life is not a hamburger. You can’t have it your way.” Daniel, 32, is the loudest; he can be heard rooms away when his Yankees are on TV. Nate, 29, is the funniest, and has a quirky taste in food; on one recent Sunday night taking jalapeno jelly to the Sunday get-together but finding few takers. Jonah, 25, grew up as a can’t-get-a-word-in-edgewise observer, but became a leader in his own peer group.
“There are disconnects that maybe exist in other coaching relationships that just flat out don’t here,” Nate said. “We’re family. You say things you might not normally say or ask questions you might not normally ask. There’s a collective team behind the team.”
“We all defend each other, love each other,” Rebecca said. “But we’ll still tell each other the truth.”
Team Nemerow, which now includes two spouses and four grandchildren, exchanges tens of thousands of sports-related texts, tweets and e-mails between November and June, communicating about the family’s basketball and soccer teams.
They all live within 10 minutes of each other and show up en masse at games, unless they have to split up to cover two Nemerow-coached contests.
At the busiest times on the high school sports calendar, a snack bar dinner counts as a home-cooked meal. The night that Daniel proposed to Michelle, he had a game to coach. So the celebration entailed eating a hot dog at the gym and keeping his scorebook.
Welcome to the family.
“It sounds silly, but they know that at any given game there’s someone that has their back, no matter what happens with the game or the parents or the kids or the refs,” said Lynn, 59, a former successful middle school and junior varsity coach who is a constant presence at games, either as spectator or team scorekeeper. “Not everyone has the support system that they do.”
The Nemerows who coach consider practice to be more important than games, because practice is where most of the instruction takes place. They tend to pass the days not by minutes and hours but teachable moments, those Aha! highs in which their students and players grasp a concept or learn a new skill. The family was honored by Prince William County schools last year for its collective service.
“They all really, truly believe that coaching builds a foundation for kids,” said Brett Tillett, Rebecca’s husband, who played football at William and Mary and was accustomed to a more in-your-face style of coaching before marrying into the family. “It’s always about lessons learned, how it will benefit the team. You constantly hear, ‘Play by the rules, treat the kids with respect.’ It’s crazy that they can operate like that all day long. They’re like robots. It’s not, ‘I can’t stand little Johnny.’ It’s, ‘Why is Johnny doing that?’ ”
Lone grandson Jack, 6, is booting a soccer ball in the yard. Isabel, 8, who already is showing teacher-like instincts, reminds her grandfather that she owns him in Yahtzee. Maya, 2, playing “phone” with a young friend, will say, “We’ll be coaches! Hi, coach, what are you doing?” Michaela, 3, was a regular at her aunt’s basketball camp, in Nike gear, when she was a week old.
So the cycle is starting again. Falling asleep in the bleachers as infants. Playing under them as youngsters. Maybe serving as ball boy or girl. Joining their own teams. Heading to favorite pizza hangout Tony’s after a game to dissect that one and plan for the next one.
It’s the Nemerow way.
“It’s no shock that all of us have stayed in that [school] setting since we’ve grown up in that setting,” Rebecca said. “And are very happy in that setting.”