Senn High students, administrators alike rely on Terrell Walsh

Senn boys' basketball coach Terrell Walsh
Senn boys' basketball coach Terrell Walsh directs his players on Jan. 11. (Mark Singer/MEDILL)

By Mark Singer

Terrell Walsh doesn’t blast a whistle or throw chairs around when he’s frustrated with his players at practice. He doesn’t need to. Walsh just slowly shuffles from the sideline to midcourt, never lifting his head but constantly shaking it, and the members of the Senn High varsity boys’ basketball team know they’ve messed up.

A string of blown layups? He’s on the move. A series of missed passes? Walsh is coming. Someone didn’t box out for a rebound? The first-year coach just might not say a word the rest of practice.

During games though, he lets players know loud and clear when they’ve irritated him. He rarely has a voice by the end of games.

“Yeah, [coaching] can be frustrating, but it’s worth it for the kids,” Walsh said.

Coach is just one of many titles Walsh has gone by in his eight years at Senn. Currently, he’s a basketball coach, technology coordinator and whatever else the administration might need at any given moment. He has also served as athletic director, football coach, volleyball coach and dean of discipline.

“He was the last choice [for boys’ basketball coach] only because of how busy he already is,” current athletic director Robert Spurlin said. “But he was happy to take the position. That’s who he is.”

Walsh, 39, is never more than a call away at Senn, but not over the phone. He carries a walkie-talkie on his hip everywhere he goes, even while he’s coaching during a game. If security needs help handling a situation, Walsh’s weary walkie-talkie grumbles to life.

Staff members at Senn have noticed his dedication to the kids.

“Terrell is a true friend and an advocate for students,” Senn baseball coach Joseph Lev said. “He is always looking out for others and for the students’ interest. He frequently goes above and beyond the call of duty.”

Walsh impressed Spurlin early on when he seamlessly broke up a brawl between two students, which he did again and again over his first few years. There’s rarely a fight anymore at Senn, but Spurlin vividly recalls Walsh’s ability to end an altercation.

“I remember him stopping fights, back when they were always happening,” Spurlin said. “He just had a talent for talking to the kids and calming them down.”

After four years of mediocrity, the varsity basketball players said they appreciate having a no-nonsense coach. Walsh briefly took over the team in 2011 after the Bulldogs started 0-5, but Senn struggled the rest of the season. That’s not the case in 2017 though, as the Bulldogs are 8-2 and sit in second place in the Chicago Public – Blue North conference.

“It’s definitely a new program under Walsh,” junior center Armon Price said. “Discipline is a lot more serious. As far as everything he’s done in this short amount of time, we have changed a lot.”

The intensity of the practices is noticeably different, Price said. Walsh typically lets his assistants handle the drills, but the head coach continually probes the court, ready to jump in at any moment.

Photo at top: Senn boys’ basketball coach Terrell Walsh directs his players on Jan. 11. (Mark Singer/MEDILL)