It has been a remarkable week in terms of fully realizing the impact Coach Jim Connelly had on the lives of so many athletes and students he taught at Saint Ignatius.
I have been calling it the “Virtual Connelly” effect. Connelly passed away on Wednesday, but his amazing spirit has been manifest in the sad smiles on the faces of family and friends at his wake, often exchanged between people who had not seen each other in many years. But it was also alive in the internet traffic that continues to circulate Coach Connelly’s name and accolades.
It has been wonderful, even at such a sad time, to meet and talk face to face with people like Drew Orsinger, Trevor Orsinger, Dennis O’Toole, Dan Kieckhefer, Chris Sorb, Emily Cosgrove, Brendan Clark, Pat Hitchens, Tom Miller, Tom Lillig, and others whose names I can’t quite recall, as we stood in line (a line that wound out the front door of the church) at St. Alexander’s in Villa Park and then gathered afterwards at the Elmhurst Public House. It is always good to see John Lillig, who most directly replaced Jim as track and cross country coach before me–and who was among those closest to Jim, especially after coaching with him; John was, in fact, really Jim’s hand-picked successor. It was a rewarding learning experience to meet Jim Connelly’s family and to watch them care for their father, as well as to feel both their sadness and faith—especially that of his wife, Sue.
Finally, it just made me feel special to be Jim Connelly’s heir as a track coach at Saint Ignatius and so to have a role in remembering him.
WordPress gives blog owners a page that tracks visitors to a blog. Before this week, the largest number of visitors to this blog in a single day was 272 on a day last October, and the blog had been visited about 18,000 times total since I first posted here a little more than a year ago; it is not a site with much traffic, even when I am blogging more regularly than recent months.
On Thursday and Friday of this week there were 1,600 visitors here, presumably readers of the post about Coach Connelly written after I visited him at home with his family last week. The blog address was posted on a bulletin board type of site for high school track and cross country in Illinois, Illinois High School Runner, developed by Ben Draper ( http://illinoishsrunner.com/) and on a Facebook page for track coaches, and a few visitors came referred from those places. But the largest proportion of visitors seemed to come by word of mouth, so to speak, as Ignatius alumni apparently passed the blog address from person to person by Facebook, email, or other communications. These were people presumably looking for help as they did their own processing of the sad news.
This is the Virtual Connelly effect; these are the thousands of people whose lives Coach Connelly touched—and people who have continued to stay in close enough contact, because of that shared Connelly relationship, that they could pass news among each other about his passing. It is probably also an iteration of the Friends of Jim Connelly Facebook page that had, as I remember it, several thousand members in 2007.
Mine hasn’t been the only blog tribute to Coach Connelly. I will post more if I come across them, but here are two others:
From Mark Floreani, Ignatius class of 2000, founder of Flotrack.com: “The Impact of a Track Coach” http://www.flotrack.org/blog/42850-The-Impact-of-a-Track-Coach
From Dennis O’Toole, Ignatius class of 1992, who writes for NPR and the Sun-Times, among other outlets: “Mr. C” http://www.dennisotoole.com/1/post/2012/08/mr-c.html
We have had some tentative discussions about where to go from here and how we might keep Virtual Jim Connelly and its positive feelings around with us for at least a little while
On Saturday, September 15, Saint Ignatius and Fenwick will be joint hosts for a “home” cross country race that will take place at Turtlehead Lake in Tinley Park. This is a long distance from campus—or from the old home course in Grant Park that former Ignatius runners talked about with me last week as they remembered running for Coach Connelly in the 1980s and 1990s. Last year, the first year of the race, we stated our intention to name the race after coaches Jim Connelly of Saint Ignatius and John Polka of Fenwick. Coach Connelly made it to the race last year, and we have some great photos of him with our team. We were looking forward to seeing him again this year, of course, where we will have race t-shirts bearing his name.
We also want to offer the race event and location as another appropriate place for Jim Connelly’s friends and family to gather and say goodbye. We would welcome any ideas about how we might do so. You can reach me most easily by email (Ed.firstname.lastname@example.org), but you can probably also find me on Facebook.
We hope that the Virtual Connelly community will pass that invitation on!
One last thought: We will have an elementary school race that morning, as well, 1 mile for six years and under at 8:45, then 2 miles for seventh and eighth graders. There is no entry fee. So bring the family!