CHADRON – You could say Steve Nelson goes the extra mile for his students.
Try 30,000 extra miles.
The Gordon native and Alliance resident commuted from Alliance to Chadron at least once a week for the past 17 years to help coach the Chadron State College pole vaulters.
“Patty and I sat down one time and said, ‘OK, if you’re going to quit, let’s see what we got here,’” Nelson said. “I took one day a week just for the indoor season times 17. It was right around 30,000 miles.”
Now, Chadron State is showing its appreciation for all of his help, hours and miles by inducting Nelson in the CSC Hall of Fame.
Nelson will be one of 10 people honored at a dinner after Chadron State’s home football game against New Mexico Highlands Oct. 31.
“When I got the letter from (Chadron State College media relations member) Con (Marshall), I was flabbergasted,” Nelson said. “(Being honored for my time volunteering), never crossed my mind. That never crosses anybody’s mind.
“You just want to see the kids get better.”
The 1974 Chadron State graduate began his tenure as the CSC volunteer pole vault coach in 1999. At that time the head coach was the only paid track coach for CSC.
“When I started doing that — I was just looking at a couple of the press guides from 1999, 2000, 2001 — I still had grey hair, but it was back in those days,” Nelson said.
Through those seventeen years — and possibly a few more greyed hairs — Nelson put his own time and passion into the CSC track and field program.
Generous? Absolutely. A little crazy?
“I’ve been asked a lot of times, ‘What are you doing? Why are you spending your money to go up there and coach?” Nelson said.
“Because I want to. It’s fun.”
It’s hard to beat the feeling of seeing a kid improve athletically.
But that’s only half the fun.
Getting to know the students and watching them succeed in life is the real joy, Nelson explained.
He’s watched people come through his tutelage and make a name for themselves in the athletic world, and he knows a number of former students who embarked on impressive professional careers.
It’s all a special feeling.
“What’s been really fun is seeing guys come this far with family and profession and still interested in all this other stuff,” Nelson said. “And to see former athletes go on as coaches and teachers and be successful — now they’re influencing kids like we did — (that’s the) best part.”
Nelson wasn’t always a pole vault guru, though. In fact, through college, Nelson threw javelin and discus for the Eagles in the early 1970s.
It wasn’t until he became the head track coach for Alliance High School in 1978 that Nelson had to start learning how to coach pole vault.
“I was brand spankin’ new (to pole vault),” he said. “It was basically standing around and watching the kids.”
That’s when Nelson’s network of connections became so invaluable.
Nelson began to reach out to coaches from Gothenburg and Fremont. He’d talk to anyone and everyone who had coached or been around pole vault before.
“I watched a lot of things, listened to a lot of people and stole all that stuff,” he said. “Most coaches, that’s where they get anything. They steal it from people who have already done it.”
Turns out, after more than 25 years of coaching AHS vaulters and 17 more years of coaching at CSC, Nelson got pretty good at his craft.
This past year, Nelson finally decided to call it quits for his CSC volunteer position.
That might prove to be easier said than done, though. Understand, it’s hard for Nelson to step away when he knows there are several vaulters he’s coached for three or four years returning.
“You’d better come up here and come hang out with us anytime you feel like it,’” CSC head track and field coach Brad Gamble told Nelson.
“I’ll try,” he replied.
Nelson will put at least 100 more miles on the truck for his induction dinner into the Chadron State College Hall of Fame Oct. 31.
“It’s one of those things like a lot of people who get awards, you’re going to get the piece of paper and plaque and you want to break it up (and give a piece to everyone),” Nelson said.