Longtime assistant coach John Welsh died Sunday night at the age of
Perhaps no one in the rich history of Lincoln Railer basketball
had as wide a range of experiences as Welsh. He was an assistant to
four Lincoln coaches: Loren Wallace, Cal Hubbard, Don Fults and Neil
Perhaps the most astounding connection between Welsh and the
Railer basketball program, though, comes when examining the
program's most decorated players. On the list of the top 15 scorers
in the history of the program, Welsh can be connected to nearly all
of them. He coached like the likes of Chuck Verderber, Geoff
Alexander, Don Aeilts, Paul Kendrick and Larry Lessen. He coached
the fathers of Jordan Nelson, Ben Brackney and Brandon Farmer, and
he coached with Alexander, whose son Gregg is the school's all-time
leading scorer. He also coached Joe Cook, the brother of Norman Cook
and the uncle of Brian Cook. His son, Pete, was a starter on the
2006-07 team that has a school record for wins in a season,
alongside Farmer and Matt Schick.
In short, Welsh knew many, many Railers -- and that's just
Welsh also coached boys and girls golf, boys and girls track,
swimming, and football. Prior to joining the staff at Lincoln
Community High School, Welsh coached baseball, basketball and track
at Beason High School until it closed in 1975. In his final season
as a head basketball coach at Beason, Welsh went 21-6 with a team
that featured future Mount Pulaski High School star Jeff Clements.
In an interview with friend and longtime area radio announcer Sam
Madonia in 2011, Welsh said he originally didn't know how long he
would stay at Lincoln Community High School, thinking he might
pursue a head coaching job somewhere else. But instead, Welsh came
to love the role of assistant coach on Loren Wallace's staff, where
he was known as the jovial jokester on the staff.
"The head coach has to do certain things," said Welsh in that
interview, which was posted this week by Tim Rogers on a Facebook
page titled "Lincoln Railers Forever." "The assistant coach is
always able to put his arm around them, comfort them and joke around
in the locker room."
Asked about his former assistant this week, Neil Alexander said
Welsh was more than just a comforting assistant coach. Alexander
heralded Welsh as a defensive mastermind.
"John was very instrumental and he has a lot to do with the
tradition of Lincoln basketball," said Alexander, who coached with
Welsh from 1990 until 1995. "I learned more about our 1-2-2 defense
from John Welsh than any other person. He had the most influence
toward me on that side of the ball as anyone. He knew defense. He
worked with Coach Wallace.
"I had a little bit of knowledge of the ball press, but he taught
me a lot. I'm grateful for that. Not only did he teach a lot about
basketball, but life in general. As he has done to many, many other
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Alexander also credits Welsh for welcoming him to the community
as an outsider in 1990. It was Welsh, Alexander says, who impressed
upon him the tradition of the Lincoln program and its importance to
"He taught me the basketball side of it, but he also taught me
the tradition of Railer basketball," said Alexander. "How things
were done, how people thought, how people's kids thought. I got that
whole lesson from him. I'm just very grateful to have had him."
The entire Railer basketball team attended Welsh's visitation on
Thursday afternoon, going as a team before their Thursday night
Challenging weekend of games
The Railers host a pair of games at Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium
this weekend, including a pivotal conference game against Sacred
Heart-Griffin on Friday night.
The Cyclones defeated Lincoln earlier this season in Springfield,
Lincoln has won four straight since that game and enters Friday's
contest with a record of 23-4. SHG enters with a record of 19-6.
A loss would almost certainly end Lincoln's hopes for a Central
State Eight conference championship. With a 12-2 record and two
conference games left to play, the Railers are tied atop the
conference with Springfield Southeast, whom they've beaten twice.
Maintaining the conference lead trumped revenge when Alexander
was asked what would motivate his team heading into Friday's game.
"I hope that our guys are more worried about playing hard and
executing," said Alexander. "We can't worry about that they beat us
last time. We have to come out, play aggressive. I don't want to
come out for revenge or whatever.
"We're still in it for the conference race. We want to take
things one step at a time. We have to win."
On Saturday, Lincoln takes on another high-quality opponent when
Moline comes to town. The Maroons enter Friday with a record of
[By JUSTIN TIERNEY]