December 1st, 2011

Hyland's Heroes: John DeCamillis

Paul Najjar

CSN Staff Writer

Hyland's Heroes: John DeCamillis
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Standout athlete continues to pass on lessons he learned   

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

Our Hyland’s Heroes column has featured coaches, officials and volunteers who have been involved with the CSAA since its inception or very nearly close to it. Many of them grew up as student-athletes in the CSAA.

This week’s feature is no different. Though relatively young, John DeCamillis—St. Raphael class of ’78 and St. Xavier class of ’82—played in the CSAA and has coached basketball in the CSAA for the past 22 years. He has been a fixture at Holy Spirit grade school as the 5th/6th grades “A” team coach for twenty years. He is now the school’s basketball program coordinator and head coach of the 7th/8th grades “A” team.

DeCamillis recalls fondly the memories of playing ball all over Louisville’s Catholic grade school gymnasiums. Those memories come flooding back every time he steps into those gyms that have been unchanged for 40, 50, 60+ years. And if you want to hear some great stories, ask him about the St. Raphael v. St. Agnes rivalry when he was playing.

“Though I went to school at Sacred Heart Model—I was among the first group of boys that they allowed to attend the school—my dad wanted me to play sports where we attended church which was at St. Raphael,” DeCamillis recalled. “I was able to play football, basketball, a little baseball and golf there.”

He talks about his “glory years” at St. Raphael with a sense that those years were something special. He talked about the great athletes he played with and against in one of the golden eras of the CSAA in the late ‘70’s. Guys like Wolford and Mudd and several other household names that went on to high school, collegiate and professional success.

“There was a Christmas tournament game at St. Francis of Assisi my eighth grade year between St. Agnes and St. Raphael that went into triple overtime,” he says with a chuckle. “We won the game 55-51, with guys diving all over the floor and running into the walls and that game is still talked about at Kern’s Korner and a few other places in town.”

The memories, embedded as they are and now taking their rightful place in the folklore that is part of the CSAA, come easily for DeCamillis. The memories of his coaches and their lessons have played an important role in his coaching and continue to do so every day.

“My eighth grade coach was Robert Palmer and Russ Riedling was his assistant,” he said. “Some of the things that Bob Palmer instilled in me, I carried up through my playing days. But now, as a coach, I think about things he taught me in grade school and try to do those same things with my grade school kids. He taught me all those little things like wearing two pair of socks to avoid blisters, and about being a leader on the floor.”

DeCamillis enjoyed a stellar high school athletic career at St. Xavier and went on to play Division I basketball at Eastern Kentucky. He cites another fond memory of his college playing days that connects him to his beginnings in the CSAA.

“When I played at Eastern (Kentucky University) and got to play twice against Louisville at Freedom Hall, Bob Palmer was waiting for me both times after I came out of the locker room after the game,” he said. “It was pretty cool to have my grade school coach there after those games. I went out of my way to let him know that chances are if he hadn’t been my coach I may not have had that opportunity to play on that level.”

Having coached roughly three hundred young boys over his 22 years at Holy Spirit, DeCamillis believes strongly about those relationships being formed at a young age.

“If you’ve got a good coach, a good role model, chances are that you’re going to get better, enjoy the game and want to keep playing. And that’s how it was for me.”

The father of four children under the age of seven, he looks forward to perhaps having the opportunity to coach his kids some day. But for now, DeCamillis is content with developing the program at Holy Spirit and coaching the 7th/8th grade boys team with the principles and fundamentals instilled in him by his coaches and mentors.

“When you talk to those young kids and you see them listening to you talk about basketball, you see their eyes widen and light up,” he says. “That’s what keeps me energized and coming back to coach. The kids idolize you in a way that makes you realize that you’re more than just a coach. We want to teach these kids to be mentally tough; that your teammates are your brothers; and that you place your education and faith ahead of sports.”


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