Monday, December 27, 2021

Thoughts On Nicky Part 1

Welcome to the time of year when nobody is really sure what day of the week it is.

For the record, it's Monday. TigerBlog was a bit confused Christmas night, when he thought briefly it was Sunday and had a small panic that he hadn't yet written anything. Fortunately, it was still Saturday.

Also fortunately, he's turning over this space in an unprecedented way today and tomorrow. For the first time, there will be back-to-back guest blogs, with both on the same subject. 

Elysee Nicholas, whom everyone with Princeton Athletics has always called "Nicky," has left after spending 40 years as a Tiger, as a member of the grounds crew. Nicky is an amazingly nice person, one who always asked about TB's children, or how things were going, or who merely smiled. He forged great relationships with so many Princeton athletes, coaches and staff members, and he will be sorely missed, though he has earned the time off now. He's also earned the right to take a bow.

One of the programs he's been very close with has been the volleyball program, and both men's coach Sam Shweisky and women's coach Sabrina King asked to write a few words about him. Today TB offers Sam's words on Nicky, and tomorrow will be Sabrina's turn:

You know the groundskeeper in the film Rudy? The guy who helps the young protagonist fight through all of his internal doubts and realize his potential? You can click here if you need a reminder. That groundskeeper was more than a groundskeeper; he was the facility guy who turned out to be an integral, if not preeminent reason for the team’s success, but more importantly the life lessons learned through sport.


That movie trope/stereotype, as most are, is based in reality, the reality that almost all of the life lessons taught through collegiate athletics don’t happen on the field of play. They happen on the bus, in the cafeteria, in the locker room, with teammates and coaches but often with the unsung heroes of every program. The team-around-the team. The folks who have no glory to be gained and after the net is up and the equipment attended to, have more in the tank to take an interest in the real-life education through athletics.


For Men’s and Women’s Volleyball for the past 40 years that person has been Elysee Nicholas, known to most as Nicky or Nick. When I met Nick in the summer of 2009, my first week at Princeton, he greeted me with a warm handshake and smile. He made me feel as though I had known him my entire life and that he would always be there to support me and the team.


For four decades Nicky has been the backbone for both the Men’s and Women’s Volleyball programs. Mythology has it that somewhere in the 90’s Nick was temporarily moved off volleyball coverage for a day, which sent legendary coach Glenn Nelsen to demand Nick be replaced or he threatened to quit. Nick was back working volleyball the next day.


The most valuable player, the greatest of all time, a friend, a confidant. Call him what you want, but Elysee Nicholas is the reason for any success we have had in my 12 years here. Every season is met with challenges and struggles. And when the mid-terms pile up, and the stress mounts and the coach can’t seem to connect with certain athletes, they always gravitate towards Nicky. He puts his arm around them and they go for a walk, and then magically all is right with the world. Part philosopher, part psychiatrist/psychologist for both players and coaches, Nicky has been responsible for every win of my career and he has always been there for every loss and disappointment. To put an arm around me, to comfort me, and to help me dust myself off and get back up. Nick always had a way to turn things on the bright side and make me and everyone around him excited about the path forward.


Although his emotional work was the real unsung hero of our programs, his physical feats should not go unheralded. Aside from having every game opps fix from adjusting the net height mid-match, to referee stands that buckled, to audio technology and speaker malfunctions mid-national anthem – Nick was there to fix and save the day.


During volleyball camp season Sabrina and I would call him MacGyver as he would rig up 4 volleyball nets across Dillon Gym. This was years before we had enough poles in the ground, and Nick used a series of S-Hooks, twine, and Ph.D. level physics to balance the tension across all nets. It was a 2-3-hour endeavor that only he could have pulled off. It was truly amazing (though potentially not OSHA approved 😊).


In 2016 Men’s Volleyball had a chance to help Nicky as he moved into is dream home. It was a great afternoon getting to spend time with Nicky and for team bonding. You can click here to see the antics that ensued.  It was a great chance to spend time with an old friend and say "thank you" to someone who has meant so much to us and our programs.


So, after 40 years of blood, sweat, and tears – of pouring his life into Princeton, Princeton Athletics, and Princeton volleyball – we want to say thank you Nicky. You mean the world to us. You have made us all better versions of ourselves and you have brightened up every room you have ever walked into.


We are so thankful and grateful that we had you around our team for so many wonderful years. As you transition to the next phase of your life, we wish you much happiness.


We hope you will come back to Dillon often to enjoy games and see the staff and players. We promise we won’t make you bring your S-Hooks 😊


We love you Nick. Thank you for everything.


-       Sam Shweisky (Men’s Volleyball Coach)

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