An Upper Iowa University Athletic Hall of Fame running back and safety under late coach Eb Eischeid, Larry Nemmers ’65 chose a career path that showcased his skills both on the field and in the classroom. For a combined 64 years, the Waterloo, Iowa, native served as a National Football League (NFL) referee and an Illinois educator.
Nemmers came to UIU after being awarded a football scholarship by Eischeid. A 1961 graduate of Waterloo Columbus High School, he would also play two years of Peacock basketball and baseball for coaches Stan Jack and Dr. Andre Nadeau, respectively.
Stepping on Fayette Campus, Nemmers originally believed he would one day become a history teacher and coach. Those plans changed a short time after he was introduced to UIU science faculty. Not only did Nadeau coach baseball, he taught anatomy, kinesiology, and football and basketball officiating. It was here that Nemmers, in small classes with personal attention, first met Dr. Ernst Naylor and Dr. Keith Himmel, two of the many professors he credits with playing key roles in his decision to major in biology.
“All of the UIU faculty and staff were fantastic, but Dr. Nadeau was an obvious influence on both my teaching and officiating careers,” Nemmers said. “He brought a sense of commitment to the classroom and officiating. During my senior year, his wife made me a uniform and he took me with him to officiate high school games. Under his guidance, I was able to reach the highest level of my avocation — officiating in three Super Bowls and enjoying 30 years in education.”
Following college graduation, Nemmers tried out for the NFL’s Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers. He played semi-professional football with the Chicago Owls and Joliet Explorers, where he was named the team’s MVP in 1966. During this time, Nemmers also embarked on his education career teaching various science classes at the middle school, high school and college levels. As a science curriculum coordinator for School District U-46 in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, he lectured and consulted throughout Illinois about science curriculum and teaching methods. He would retire from education after serving as principal at Elgin High School in Elgin, Illinois, from 1982-94.
“I was in education for three decades, but a teacher never stops being an educator,” Nemmers, who also holds master’s degrees in educational administration and chemistry, said. “I loved dealing with kids, evaluating teachers and reviewing curriculum. The daily life of a teacher not only affords us the opportunity to teach but to also learn at any age.”
Nemmers’ officiating career lasted long beyond his days in the field of education. For the first time since 1964, Nemmers has his weekends off, having retired following the 2018-19 NFL season. He kicked his officiating career off with 18 years at the high school level and also served as the Illinois High School Rules interpreter for 15 years. He later officiated for nine years in the Big 10 Conference, including a selection to the 1984 Rose Bowl officiating crew.
Nemmers was assigned duties as an NFL side judge in 1985, before being named a referee and crew chief in 1991. Nemmers retired from the field in 2008 and moved to the NFL replay booth where he helped lead referees review calls. He reached the pinnacle of his NFL career when he was selected to officiate Super Bowls XXV and XXXV, and served as a replay official in Super Bowl XLVI.
“Football was always my first love when it came to officiating,” Nemmers said. “When compared to other sports, it’s more scientific and you have time to think, prepare and anticipate the next play. I liked all levels of sports, but the NFL provided the highest level of competition and I enjoyed officiating it the most.”
Larry and his wife, Sherry, reside in Springfield, Missouri. The couple have three adult sons and four grandchildren. In addition to being named to the UIU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993, Nemmers has been selected to the Columbus High School, Illinois Basketball, Elgin (Illinois) Sports, Missouri Sports, and Waterloo (Iowa) Optimist halls of fame.
“I owe whatever success I’ve experienced to my family upbringing,” Nemmers said. “My mom and dad instilled in me a commitment to God, family and friends. I have always tried to keep my priorities in line with that. God and family are personal, but when surrounded by friends and colleagues that provide support and guidance, you can make a difference in other people’s lives. And for four years, my friends at UIU were my lifeblood. We studied, played and shared experiences together that provided a lifetime of memories.”