Bay City honors longtime teacher, coach
March 31, 2010 at 9 p.m.
Updated March 30, 2010 at 10:31 p.m.
BAY CITY - Eddie Nelson coached 53 players who received college scholarships. Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald was one of them.
McDonald played basketball at Bay City for Nelson before lettering for four seasons at Howard Payne University.
But the lessons Nelson taught McDonald extended far beyond the basketball court and helped him become the person he is today.
"He makes you understand that basketball is a vehicle and a very good one because he had just come from that," McDonald said. "He didn't come from money and I didn't come from money, my parents have worked all their lives. He helped us to understand that you can use this basketball to go up there and do what you love to do and get a very good education in the meantime. He impressed that upon us and just hammered us with it all the time."
The message Nelson imparted and the success he brought to the Bay City basketball program attracted community officials, friends and members of the community to the Don Davis Dealership on Wednesday where Bay City Mayor Richard Knapik issued a notice proclaiming Wednesday as Coach Eddie Nelson Day.
"It means the world to me. I never dreamed of anything like this," said Nelson, who was joined by his wife, Mary Helen, and dressed in his traditional dapper style. "When I look back, all these guys are very successful at a high level. That makes you feel good. You're looking for a productive citizen. I have a lot of guys who reached a very high level and some that didn't who are still good citizens."
Nelson was the head basketball coach in Bay City for 36 years before being reassigned after the 2008 season. He took over a program that had won five district titles in the previous 57 years and compiled an overall record of 745-357 that included 16 district titles, five regional championships, five trips to the state tournament, two appearances in the state final and the 1985 Class 4A state championship.
"It was wonderful because he was always organized, he made it fun, he made us want to work," said District Judge Craig Estlinbaum, who played on Nelson's state tournament teams in 1979 and 1980. "He was demanding but not in a way that made you uncomfortable. He expected the best out of you and that's what you look for as a young person."
Nelson coached some outstanding players, including LaBradford Smith, who led the Blackcats to the state title before going on to play at Louisville and in the NBA. But Nelson also knew how to get the most out of his role players by making them understand their importance to the success of the team.
"He gave us that big picture and then he motivated you to go get that," McDonald said. "He was also smart enough to know that if that was his only trick to play basketball that he'd better ride that and he'd ride that. He wasn't a one-trick pony. He would analyze each of us and he would have a plan to motivate each of us.
"If it was education, if you were going to be an athlete, if you were going to be a preacher, he had a different pitch for each one of us and he was very good at delivering it and very good at selling it. He was very good at selling the team concept. That's what I still hold dear today is the team concept. It's so important to get that and to get it at 16 and 17 is huge. Some guys don't get it forever. I got it at 16, the start of my senior year."
Nelson admits the values he holds so dear are harder to impart today. But he remains true to the core principles he brought to Bay City in 1972 after playing basketball at Howard Payne and coaching for a year at his alma mater.
"You have to really concentrate on getting them focused," Nelson said. "You've got so many tests that you've got to stay on task. You don't have time for any distractions. The world has changed and it's communication and computers. The kids have got to be in there to learn all that they can learn. They have to have a vision, set goals and come up with a plan. You've got no time for distractions."
Nelson turned 61 in March, but he has no plans to retire. He is looking forward to helping another generation of Bay City students better their lives.
"For me to do the job I do teaching and coaching, you've got to really love the kids," Nelson said. "That's the first thing is you've got to love what you're doing because you aren't going to get rich doing this. The biggest thing is you've got to see the guys develop into productive citizens. That's what it's all about seeing them become productive."
Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.