October 28th, 2011

Hyland's Heroes: Norm Gerlack

Paul Najjar

CSN Staff Writer

Hyland's Heroes: Norm Gerlack
photo from Norm Gerlack

Gerlack instills life lessons through football                      

The following feature is a part of a weekly series, sponsored by Hyland, Block & Hyland, called "Hyland's Heroes" - a set of profiles that will spotlight Louisville area Catholic volunteers, coaches and administrators who assist athletic programs and teams, and help promote excellence in all aspects of sports. Know someone that you think should be featured as the next "Hyland's Hero? Send your recommendation to editor@catholicsportsnet.com.  

When it comes to coaches in the CSAA, you could call Norm Gerlack’s path a bit unconventional compared to so many others. He wasn’t raised in the Catholic faith. He didn’t attend a Catholic school. His wife converted to the faith and their children were raised and educated at Our Mother of Good Counsel parish.

But just like so many of his coaching colleagues, he was a stand-out athlete in football at Durrett high school (now the site of Male high school’s campus). He also understood the importance of the CSAA and the foundation that thousands of Louisville elementary student-athletes received as members of school teams.

It was his son’s interest in football that got him started in coaching. Our Mother of Good Counsel needed someone to coach the 5th/6th grade team. Gerlack stepped up and took the position. For the better part of the past 25 years, he’s been involved with the very strong and successful program at OMOGC/St. Mary’s football as a head coach or offensive coordinator.

“I was head coach of the 5th/6th grade team for two years and then moved up with those guys to coach the 7th/8th grade team,” stated Gerlack. “When my son played at Trinity and then at Villanova, I took a little time away from coaching to watch him play.”

He grew up in Audubon Park and played football in grade school and high school. He attended Eastern Kentucky University where he met his wife. They were married between his junior and senior year at EKU and were blessed with two children Shannon and Heather.

Shannon played football at Trinity and at Villanova. Heather was a basketball player at Sacred Heart Academy and played in junior college for two years before injuries sidelined her career. The sports genes run in the family.

“My son, as a 5th grader, came home one day from school and said, ‘Dad, I think I’d like to play football,’” recalled Gerlack. “I said, ‘That’s great.’ I played football when I was a kid and loved it, so I volunteered to go to practices and help out with whatever needed doing. At the time we didn’t have a 5th/6th grade coach so I volunteered to take on that job. Because of that, I’ve been coaching on and off since 1986.”

Gerlack supports long-time St. Mary’s/OMOGC coach Ray Nowacki as offensive coordinator and enjoys giving back to the school that helped raise his children.

“I loved playing football and when my son told me he wanted to play I wanted to be part of that as well,” said Gerlack. “I played safety and my son ironically ended up playing safety at Trinity and then in college at Villanova.”

A three-year letter-winner at Durrett who earned numerous accolades including team MVP his senior year, Gerlack’s solid background in the game helped him deliver his message as a coach. As a mentor, Gerlack enjoys the interaction with the student-athletes as he prepares them for the rigors of local high school football and life in general.

“I enjoy preparing the young men who want to play football on the high school level,” he said. “But I also enjoy the life lessons that come with teaching and playing the game. Ever since my son moved up to the high school level, the most gratifying aspect of coaching to me has been to see the young men I’ve coached through the years go on to play in high school and college. Seeing those guys later on in life and hearing them tell me that I was a part of their football career and helped them become men has been really gratifying.”

The lessons learned on the fields of play often translate well into life lessons. Gerlack firmly believes that this is so with football.

“You learn a lot of life lessons in football,” he said. “It’s not just wins and losses. If I can help them become better football players and teach them a few life lessons along the way then I feel like I’ve been successful.

“Learning to deal with the ups-and-downs, the highs-and-lows of sports in general is really valuable,” Gerlack continued. “You can run the gamut of emotions, good and bad, during the course of a season. You have to learn to deal with all of that and be humble in your success and stand up to defeat. Perseverance and continuing to stick to a plan and seeing it through are important, too. Generally, if you do that you’ll win in life and in sports. I continue to coach because I love the kids and enjoy watching them develop as players and young men.”

The fruits of the labors of men like Gerlack and Nowacki and the dozens of other volunteer coaches can be seen all over the landscape of Metro Louisville high school football. With Trinity and St. X; with Ballard and Male and several more high schools. The men who coach these young student-athletes strive to develop good players and even better young men.



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