After spending eight seasons as a volunteer assistant coach with the Ball State men’s volleyball team, Jim Palilonis has been promoted to a full-time, paid position.
Other than a personal phone, and some new office space, Palilonis said little will change for him.
“Previously it’s been a volunteer position, but it’s been treated as a full-time assistant that just doesn’t get paid,” Palilonis said. “It was never, ‘Well, I’ll be there if I can.’ Sure, there were times that a kid was sick or something that kept me from coming in, but I’ve essentially been an un-paid full-time assistant.”
His two children, now 8-year-old identical twins, are a big part of the reason that Palilonis was with the program in the first place.
He served as an assistant with Ball State in 2002 — a season in which Ball State advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four. He then left the program to pursue a local teaching job.
From 2004-05, Palilonis was an alternative school teacher at the Greater Randolph County Interlocal Cooperative.
That would change when his wife, Jennifer, faced complications in her pregnancy.
“The last day I taught was literally the day we had an emergency c-section,” Palilonis said. “I left the alternative school, went to the hospital and I haven’t been back in a classroom since.”
The Palilonis twins, Gage and Quinn, were born two months premature. They spent the next eight weeks in an incubator.
Palilonis left his job behind to take care of the newborn twins and ensure they would grow up healthy.
“Initially, we just weren’t going to send them off to daycare or anything like that,” he said. “Financially it wasn’t worth sending them off to someone else, when I’d rather just stay home with them and raise them myself just to make sure they were doing all right.”
He focused on raising his twins until they reached about 1 year old. That’s when he got a call from Ball State coach Joel Walton.
“As soon as we heard that Jim was going to be a stay-at-home dad — we were practicing in the mornings — I thought maybe we could get him back in the gym with us early in the day before his wife left for her job,” Walton said.
That is exactly how things worked out for Palilonis.
“Honestly it gave me a chance to socialize back in the real world,” he said laughingly. “When you’re at home raising newborn kids you don’t get out much. So it became kind of an opportunity to not only help the team and help Joel, but to step back out into reality and to start working with normal people.”
Palilonis meshed well with the Cardinals. So did his children, for that matter. He said for the first two or three years he was the team, his twins were at his side.
It’s no surprise that his family grew around volleyball. His wife, who works in Ball State’s journalism department, also has roots in the sport.
Palilonis said Jennifer played in high school and played club ball, so her support was easy to come by as he continued to volunteer at Ball State. Of course, gaining a paid position hasn’t hurt his case either.
“It makes it easier to keep doing because I’m drawing salary,” Palilonis said. “Honestly though, [Jennifer has] always been cool with it. She’s always been great. That’s part of the reason it’s worked.”
While the future of the team may be uncertain, one thing in Palilonis’ future is not.
He won’t be doing it for free any longer.