Walter Ford

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January 3, 2014
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Nevada Union football wins Dick Nelson Community Service Award

On the field, the 2013 Nevada Union football team finished 0-10, the worst record in the history of the school. They were beat handily in all 10 contests and rarely gave fans reason to stay past halftime.

So what has NU athletic director Steve Pilcher and head coach Dennis Houlihan smiling as they look back on the winless season?

The bigger picture — that’s what.

The Miners may have not been the powerhouse program on the field that fans are accustomed to, but they routinely received high praise was for their work in the community.

Throughout the season, Nevada Union football players spent their Sunday’s pitching in around the community, helping to bridge the popular high school program with the community that supports it.

“We brought this challenge to the kids, and we told them that it was important, and we wanted to link NU to the community,” NU head football coach Dennis Houlihan said. “I’m not saying that it hadn’t been done, but we wanted to take it to another level, and they ran with it. Every single time we needed a volunteer, I never needed to ask because there was too many. It was great. We just got on a rotation.”

The NU football team helped out with the Healthy Harvest food drive, they bundled fire wood for the elderly prior to the cold weather, they cleaned up Pioneer Cemetery, they put in work with Healthy Gardens breaking new foundation, and they cleaned up for all kinds of activities, including stock car races. In all, the football team spent 12 Sundays in the community, pitching in wherever it was needed.

“We had letters coming from the community saying how polite our boys were and how helpful they were,” Houlihan said. “What they presented in front of the people they were helping was all positive.”

For its efforts in community service, Nevada Union was chosen by the Sac-Joaquin Section to be the 2013 recipient of the Dick Nelson Award, which is presented annually to the prep sports program that displays an undaunted commitment to its community.

“I don’t want anyone to get it wrong — winning and losing does count because we don’t do this if we were not keeping track,” Houlihan said. “But one of the things we wanted to do was replace things that have been missing for a long time, piece by piece. The community service, the bridging of faculty and our team, and yeah, (the award) validates a lot of the things I said we were going to do when we got here.

“We were going to make a culture change, and the school was looking for that, and I told them if they didn’t mind I’d like our football team to be the head of that. I really feel we were very successful in that part.”

This was the first year Nevada Union had submitted an application for the award with both the football and girls volleyball programs sending in applications. The girls volleyball team spent countless hours helping out Hospitality House, and for its efforts, it was runner-up for the award. So out of more than 200 schools, Nevada Union ended up in a battle with itself for the award.

“The timing is perfect because it shows that football is about more than wins and losses,” said Pilcher.

“For me, because I’m a teacher, we’re still teachers, whether we are off-campus teachers who don’t have a credential or an on-campus teacher who has a credential. We’re all teachers. That’s what we do, and in sports, it’s still about teaching and teachable moments, and I think this is one of the most important things you can teach kids — to contribute and give back to the community.”

Pilcher and Houlihan gave a lot of credit for organizing the volunteer effort to Brad Scott, who sought out and lined up many of the Miners’ activities.

The award gives some validation to the character-driven approach Houlihan has toted since taking over, but Pilcher reminds that the award is nice, but that’s not why the kids put forth the effort.

“This wasn’t to win an award,” he said. “This was to get our football team back into that community giving — football being more than just on the field on Friday nights — and I think its important that all of our kids, all our student-athletes, realize they are part of a community and that they feel grounded.”

Pilcher said the way the NU football team carried itself in the community amid a losing season is indicative of the changes he wants to see in NU sports.

“A lot of our coaches are getting on board and realize that character is the most important thing,” Pilcher said. “We took a good look at ourselves the past couple years and asked what’s important and why are we doing this. We’d love to win more section titles, we’d love to win more games, but the bottom line is we are teachers, we’re members of the community, we’re fathers, we’re mothers, and we need to teach our kids.”

Pilcher along with Houlihan, NU Principal Mike Blake and a few select members from the football team will be honored for their civic service at a breakfast banquet where they will be presented with the award and a $500 check.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email

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The Union Updated Jan 24, 2014 11:28PM Published Jan 3, 2014 09:58PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.