The events in our country the past two weeks have forced us to look at who we are and what we believe in. Locally two men, who were highly involved in high school athletics, died suddenly within a day of one another – Truman basketball coach Billy Guninnee and William Chrisman football and baseball legend Dan Nerling.
I knew them at different times in my life. Coach Guinnee was at Truman when I was an assistant coach and activities director at Blue Springs High School. I grew up with Dan Nerling and have known him since I was 6 years old. Dan was 10 years older than Guinnee, but both possessed the ability to compete at a high level and still have the respect of their opponents.
I first met Billy when Steve Broughton was the head coach at Truman. He had just hired Billy as an assistant. I coached softball against Broughton and became friends while playing golf during the summer months. When he hired Guinnee, he said to me, “Tim, you are going to like this guy. He has a lot of fire in the belly.”
Broughton was right – Billy was the ultimate competitor and his players would bust their tails to compete against you with no quit. It did not make any difference whether you were playing a team coached by Billy at home or away, you better have your team ready to go at the tipoff. Simply put, Coach Guinnee was a tremendous motivator. I always liked and respected Billy. He always tried to do things right to teach his players life lessons that could be used after sports.
Dan was just like Guinnee in his drive to compete. He earned the nickname of “Diamond Dan” from his friends and teammates as he was growing up. He was an All-American and all-state high school football player and was one of the best catchers in the state in high school.
I could tell stories about him for days, but what many people never knew about him was that, after suffering a head injury from a fall off a jungle gym when he was 5 years old, he was told by his doctor that he should never play sports. He had a plate in his forehead and had to wear a helmet device to protect his head until he was 9 years old. We played sports every day, all day, with his unusual looking head device. A lot of the older guys in the neighborhood would make fun of him by calling him “Steel Head.”
That turned out to be a mistake when Dan became a teenager. He played every down in football on both sides of the ball. He caught every inning in baseball and batted fourth most of the time. He became one of the greatest athletes in William Chrisman sports history.
Both Coach Guinnee and Diamond Dan knew the importance of belonging to a team. They understood it took sacrifice of themselves for the success of the team. They were both good individually, but earned the respect for their selflessness. They set their goals high and were successful for keeping their eyes on the prize.
These two individuals lived their lives with a sense of the total team. They were the epitome of teamwork making the dream work. I was a better person for knowing Coach Billy Guinnee and Dan Nerling. They set great examples during their lives. I think the greatest compliment one can receive is, “You were a good teammate.” RIP Coach Billy Guninnee and Diamond Dan Nerling – prayers to both families.
• The quote of the week comes from college basketball coaching legend John Wooden: “The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”
– Tim Crone, a William Chrisman High School graduate, is a former activities director and coach for Blue Springs High School and is a host of a weekly radio show, “Off the Wall with Tim Crone,” on KCWJ (1030 AM) 6 p.m. every Monday. He writes a weekly column for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com.