The Suburbanite
  • Patience key to officiating for Manchester’s Creme

  • Nick Crème, one of the best-kept – and longest-kept as well – secrets of the Manchester school system, was greeting a visitor at the front door of Nolley Elementary School recently.

    As the longtime physical education teacher did so, he looked down to see a little boy, maybe 6 or 7 years old and only as tall as Crème’s mid-thigh, timidly and patiently staring up at him.

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  • Nick Crème, one of the best-kept – and longest-kept as well – secrets of the Manchester school system, was greeting a visitor at the front door of Nolley Elementary School recently.
    As the longtime physical education teacher did so, he looked down to see a little boy, maybe 6 or 7 years old and only as tall as Crème’s mid-thigh, timidly and patiently staring up at him.
    “Mr. Creme, did you happen to find the $2.75 I accidentally left in the gym?” he asked.
    Creme reached into his pocket and pulled out the money – not just any ol’ $2.75, but his $2.75 – and said, smiling, “Is this it?”
    The boy beamed and shook his head affirmatively.
    Crème handed him the money and off the boy went, his anxiety vanquished and his day made.
    Another problem – maybe a little problem in the overall scheme of things, but a big one in that boy’s life – solved.
    The previous evening, Crème, also a well-respected men’s small college and boys high school basketball official for several decades, might have been getting addressed in a much, much different manner, say, by a large, overbearing coach, his face beet-red and the veins sticking out of his neck, spitting mad and just plain spitting as he screamed at the Silver Lake resident for calling a blocking foul on his player when it was clear – even to a man with poor eyesight – that it was a charging foul by the other school’s kid.
    Those are two extremes of Crème’s life.
    How does he keep it in perspective so as to be able to handle both situations in the proper way, to calm the boy’s nervousness, and stay calm in front of that coach?
    “With patience,” he said. “You can never get too high or too low.”
    Big parts, to be sure, but those aren’t the only parts of what makes Crème what he is, and who he is – all things to all people, even little ones and angry ones.
    There are so many other things in between, making his days very busy, but also extremely fulfilling.
    Good thing that Crème is young.
    “I’m 60,” he said.
    He is?
    Imagine that.
    Guess it makes sense, though, because he graduated from old Akron Hower High School in 1970, before it was merged with Central to become Central-Hower, now since closed.
    Also, this is his 34th year of teaching in the Manchester system, having started at Nimisila Elementary School, now since closed as well.
    OK, but he looks a lot younger – whatever 60 is supposed to look like – and acts a lot younger. Indeed, you have to have a lot of energy to keep his schedule.
    Page 2 of 4 - When he was in the prime of his officiating career, he regularly worked games every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday nights, and then afternoons and/or evenings on Saturday.
    One time, he really pushed the envelope, driving four hours after school mid-week to work an NAIA semifinal in Kentucky, doing the game, driving back, arriving home at 4 – a.m., not p.m. – sleeping an hour or so, getting up and being back at Nolley by 8, ready to go, his nose for loose change in the gym turned on and running full-throttle.
    That’s the way Dave Douglas, the late, great physical education teacher in Manchester schools, used to do it, too. He would leave school on Friday, work all weekend in some other state laying flooring or handling his trophy business, and then return just in time to get to school on Monday morning for the start of classes.
    Usually, he didn’t sleep at all.
    “Sure, I remember Dave,” Crème said with a smile.
    Indeed, nobody could ever forget the iconic Douglas, whose passion for everything, sports and otherwise, oozed out of the pores of his well-muscled body.
    And anyone who has met Crème during his last 31⁄2 decades at Manchester can’t forget him, either.
    But his personality is totally different.
    “I like to maintain a low profile and fly under the radar,” he said.
    Because of that, there are likely people who think they know Crème, but may not know him well at all.
    He has Douglas’s passion for all things, though, which is why, while attending the University of Akron en route to earning a bachelor of science degree in elementary education in 1978, with a minor in physical education, he kept up his skills in basketball, a sport in which he had excelled at Hower. In a UA one-on-one intramural tournament, he won the championship, in fact defeating a student from Manchester, Doug Zumstein, in the finals.
    Pursuing that interest in basketball – “I always wanted to stay in touch with the sport,” he said  – Creme began two careers at about the same time, as a teacher at Manchester and the junior varsity basketball coach on Frank Lupica’s staff at Walsh Jesuit High School.
    Not long thereafter, Creme inserted officiating into his life, but gave up the coaching when it began interfering with being able to work games.
    He has mostly worked men’s and boys games, but also did women’s and girls contests for five years early in his career before the enormity of it all made him either scale back or begin impacting his marriage.
    “There is a problem with some guys who work a lot of games ending up getting divorced,” Crème said.
    Page 3 of 4 - So he cut out the women’s and girls games and instead – wisely so – kept the woman in his life, Gayle, to whom he has been married for 25 years.
    “We have a lot of similarities,” he said of his wife.
    They do.
    She is the vice president of special events for the Cleveland Cavaliers and, when the Cavaliers-owned Cleveland Rockers WNBA team existed, she served as assistant general manager.
    Their son, Nicholas, is a Hoban High School graduate now attending Ohio University.
    Creme has found time to create a program for developing young – high school-aged – officials who may aspire one day to work local high school or college games. They do CYO games with elementary school-aged players to learn the ropes.
    In a similar role, Creme is in charge of training and development for the Greater Akron Basketball Officials Association.
    Because he is a man of faith, he started a Fellow of Christian Officials organization that allows the members – starting with 20 and now numbering 165 strong, and continuing to grow -- to share their stories.
    “I can’t do that here at Nolley, but we can do it outside of school for officials who want to be a part,” he said. “Before the games, we pray with each other, for each other.”
    He’s also an avid fisherman. On the bulletin board in his makeshift office tucked way to one end on the Nolley auditorium/gym/cafeteria stage, there are, next to the photo of Crème standing with UCLA coaching legend John Wooden at the McDonald’s High School All-Star Basketball Game in Cleveland nearly a decade ago, all kinds of photos of him fishing with a variety of family members, friends and associates.
    Creme is as well-versed in fishing as he is in any part of his life.
    “It’s my relaxation,” he said of throwing a line into the water in a tranquil setting and just kicking back.
    At one time in his life, Creme wanted to be an elementary school principal. He even went back to UA and received his masters degree in elementary education in 1985.
    “But I didn’t pursue that because I feel I’m in the right place,” he said. “I like what I’m doing. I can help people here and make an impact.”
    And he has, certainly.
    It’s worked out well. Crème said Nolley has “a great principal” in Christie Pappas.
    “She does a wonderful job,” he said. “She’s very well-suited for this building.”
    And the school also has a great physical education teacher in the opinion of so many past and present Nolley students and their parents.
    Nick Creme can retire after next school year and said, “I’m thinking about it.”
    Page 4 of 4 - But if he does, then who is going to find that lunch money and save it for the little boy?
    Will the next ref slap that out-of-control coach with a technical foul instead of trying to calm him down and reason with him?
    And who is going to do all that stuff in between?
    Those are the $2.75 questions.