Nan Tulchinsky & Chuck Webber

Courtside every night

Most Irish men’s and women’s basketball season-ticket holders, particularly those whose seats offer a clear view of the Purcell Pavilion’s south side, could easily identify Nan Tulchinsky and Chuck Webber in a police lineup. 

She’s the one in the black and white striped shirt, and he’s the dapper gentleman sporting a bow tie. 

But, if Nan and Chuck, who, by the way, are among the least likely candidates to ever fall out of favor with law enforcement, appeared on the old television game show What’s My Line? the star-studded panel would most likely fail to correctly guess what the two do while sitting courtside.

Tulchinsky has served as the official scorer for the Irish women’s basketball team for two decades and is now in her 18th season keeping the book for the Notre Dame men. Webber, the official timer for Irish basketball, joined the scorer’s table in 1957. Yes, that’s right—1957. 

“It’s amazing how often perfect strangers think they know me or believe they sit right behind me,” Tulchinsky said. 

“And while most people recognize us away from the court, few realize what we do...or that we actually work while we are watching a game,” Webber added.

The half dozen folks who comprise the scorer’s table staff play a key role in ensuring that a Notre Dame home basketball game comes off without a hitch.

“We consider ourselves a team, and each of us has a specific responsibility,” Tulchinsky explained. “No matter what is happening on the court, we have to focus and make sure we do our job and do it well.”

“Those of us who work at the table like each other a lot and trust each other,” Webber said. “We have to be alert to every play, every whistle.”

The affable Webber, who moved to South Bend from Hemlock, Ind., when he was in the fourth grade, never expected that doing a favor for a friend who lived across the street would turn into a 50-year plus gig with Irish athletics. 

That neighbor was Dominick “Nappy” Napolitano, Notre Dame’s longtime physical education instructor and director of intramural and club sports. Nappy, who died in 1986, also created the Bengal Bouts, the annual Notre Dame boxing club tournament that raises money for the Holy Cross missions in Bangladesh, in 1931 and remained in involved with the program for over 50 years.

“Nappy was in charge of getting people to staff Notre Dame games, and he asked if I’d like to help,” Webber explained. “I loved sports, and I had 10 kids. I used to joke that my wife Joan paid Nappy to get me out of the house.”

Webber, who retired 18 years ago from a long and distinguished career in human resources for various South Bend companies, also has worked the game management staffs for Notre Dame hockey, football, volleyball and women’s lacrosse as well as interhall football since he accepted Napolitano’s offer 56 years ago.

“I have never been late to a game, and I never missed any of my own kids’ activities,” Webber said. “We had every event listed on a calendar, and my wife and kids always checked that schedule before they committed me to anything.”

While Webber was honing his skills as a timer in the old Notre Dame Fieldhouse with its dirt floors and wooden bleachers, Tulchinsky and her Saint Mary’s College classmates huddled around a radio in LeMans Hall, listening to the broadcasts of those games. 

“Saint Mary’s students couldn’t get tickets in those days because the Fieldhouse was always sold out,” Tulchinsky said. 

A 1964 graduate of Saint Mary’s, Tulchinksy began her 43-year career with the South Bend Community School Corporation later that summer as a second-grade teacher at Perley Elementary School. There she met her fellow teacher and future husband, Mark, who joined the Notre Dame game management staff in 1977.

A lifelong sports fan and participant, Tulchinsky became the first woman to earn IHSAA basketball officiating status within the St. Joe Valley Referees Association. During her career as a teacher at Perley, Jefferson Elementary School and Brown Centralized Kindergarten, she coached elementary and middle school girls’ basketball as well as YMCA co-ed basketball. She also officiated in the local Catholic sports league, the ICCL. She became athletic director at LaSalle High School in 1998 and then assumed the job of athletic director for the South Bend Community School Corporation in 2002 and retired from that position in 2007.

During the early days of the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, with Webber and Tulchinsky’s husband Mark working the scorer’s table, she sat in the stands with her daughter, Sarah, and used the opportunity to teach her the intricacies of the sport. Sarah, who played basketball at John Adams High School, graduated from Notre Dame in 1996.

“In those days, there might have been 20 people in the stands—if that,” Tulchinsky said. “It’s been such a thrill to watch the transformation of the program and see the athletic opportunities now available to so many young women.”

When Muffet McGraw arrived on campus in 1987, Mark Tulchinsky convinced his wife to join the crew at the scorer’s table. A few years later Nan settled in as the official scorer at the Irish men’s games when the job opened unexpectedly. Many believe she was the first woman to serve as the official scorer for a Division I men’s program.

“I just love the game of basketball,” Tulchinsky said. “I love to watch how coaches deal with the game and try to understand their strategies. You learn so much by being that close to the action and by hearing and seeing the interaction among the players, coaches and officials.”

During their seasons at the scorer’s table, both Tulchinsky and Webber have had a courtside seat to Irish athletic history and experienced more than their share of some incredibly memorable moments. 

“Austin Carr still remains at the top of my list as the best player I have ever seen,” Webber said. “If the three-point shot would have been in effect when he played, that would have been something.”

Since 1957, Webber has watched every home game in the tenures of six Irish head coaches—John Jordan, John Dee, Digger Phelps, John MacLeod, Matt Doherty and Mike Brey. When the great blizzard of 1978 socked South Bend with 36 inches of snow and virtually paralyzed the city, Webber, who lives about 1.5 miles north of the Athletic and Convocation Center, bundled up against the cold and trudged to the arena for the nationally televised game against Maryland. Struggling to navigate the unplowed streets, he watched in amazement as public address announcer Jack Lloyd whizzed past him on a snowmobile.

“He didn’t offer me a ride or even wave,” Webber said with a chuckle.

Rain, snow, nor sleet ever kept Webber or the Tulchinskys away from a home game, and neither did a wedding. 

When Mark’s and Nan’s son Peter, a 2003 Notre Dame graduate, decided to get married, he and his fiancée Hope found an open Monday in January so his parents could join them for the Las Vegas festivities without missing a basketball beat.

Most of the stories Nan and Chuck share trigger a wide smile and easy laugh as they admit the opportunity to work at the scorer’s table has been an “absolute privilege.”

Webber fondly recalled the time Marquette’s legendary coach Al McGuire, who had a reputation for vociferously challenging officials’ calls, knew one more technical would get him ejected from the heated battle with his friend and foe, Digger Phelps. So, the fiery and animated Irishman called a timeout, walked to the scorer’s table and spent his precious free seconds “chatting” with Webber and lamenting the “terrible” call his team had just endured. Before returning to the bench, he looked at Webber with a straight face, and in typical McGuire nonsensical fashion asked, “Do I look like I just fell off a pumpkin truck?”

Tulchinsky, who has known former Irish All-American Skylar Diggins since she was 5 years old, marveled at how the women’s game now features so much finesse and is played the way it was designed. 

She and Webber also appreciate the kindness and support offered to them from players and coaches alike, including such luminaries as Pat Summit and Tubby Smith. When Mike Petersen, then the head coach of the Wake Forest women’s basketball team, sent every member of the scorer’s table a hand-written letter offering his thanks for the professionalism shown during the first round of the 2010 WBCA Classic held at Notre Dame, they were “blown away” that someone would take the time to recognize their efforts. 

But during the last few years, the game-day buddies also faced tremendous personal loss and used their friendship and courtside camaraderie to help them cope with unspeakable grief. 

Mark Tulchinsky, who earned his master’s degree at Notre Dame after graduating from the University of Chicago, suffered a heart attack at his principal’s desk at Tarkington Elementary School on Jan. 22, 2008, while Nan, his wife of 38 and a half years, was attending noon mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. He was four days shy of his 61st birthday. Although she missed the Irish women’s home game the night Mark died, Nan was in her black and white striped shirt, sitting at the scorer’s table, pencil in hand, when the Irish men returned to the Joyce Center for a Jan. 31 game against Providence.

“It was incredibly hard, but I just wanted to return to something normal,” Tulchinsky said. “Mark would have wanted me to be there, even though someone else was in his usual seat.”

But, when the arena lights dimmed for a moment of silence, she couldn’t hold back the tears. 

“That was tough,” she admitted. “You just have to do it.” 

And Webber, who had developed a longstanding friendship with Mark through their game management work, also felt his loss deeply and did what he could to support Nan in those very dark days.

“We were all very sad,” he said.

He faced his own personal challenge three and a half years later when his 56-year-old son Eric died Oct. 18, 2011. Four days later, Webber returned to his timer’s chair for the USC game in Notre Dame Stadium.

“It’s so important to get back to a normal life when you go through something like that,” Webber said. 

“The only choice you have is to go on.”

And go on they have, insisting they gave up their day jobs so they could keep their night jobs. Both have no plans to “retire” from their duties at the Irish scorer’s table or their civic activities anytime soon. They are having too much fun.

“Chuck and Nan have worked together so long that they are almost like an old married couple, finishing each other’s sentences,” observed Kara O’Leary, director of alumnae relations at Saint Mary’s College and a member of the scoring table crew for two decades. “The two of them have such mutual respect for one another, and the crew has been molded by their leadership and dedication.”

O’Leary also noted that she has lost count of the number of times Webber has protected Tulchinsky from being hit in the head by a stray basketball or a diving player.

“She is usually the one with her head down in the book, and Chuck always has his eyes on the court,” O’Leary said.

Webber, 86, donates blood every other Friday at the South Bend Medical Foundation and has given 66 gallons and over 500 units. He ranks far and away as the city’s leading blood donor, and some say the only person who has donated more blood than Webber lives in Africa. He also remains the yearly top fundraiser for the Lupus Alliance Annual Walk in the Indiana/Michigan chapter, an event he participates in partly because of his daughter’s battle with the disease. He and Joan, currently battling cancer, have been married for 63 years and have 10 children and 24 grandchildren, including one who graduated from Notre Dame.

Tulchinksy, whose youngest son Daniel lives in Chicago, volunteers at the Northeast Neighborhood Food Pantry, helps with meal preparation at Our Lady of the Road and mentors a child through the South Bend Community School Corporation. She also spends lots of time being “Grammie” to grandchildren Abbey, Emma and Jacob (Sarah and John Baer ’05) in California and Payton Ann, Jacob and Owen in North Carolina. All six scrutinize the TV screen during Irish basketball telecasts for a shot of their grandmother.

During their time at the Notre Dame scorer’s table, Webber and Tulchinsky have watched many of the college game’s greatest coaches and players at work. But perhaps the true legends of the game are sitting courtside—she in her black and white striped shirt and he in his bow tie—doing what they do, not for fame, fortune or glory, but for love of the game and the University.