Norma Nelson, who was fired as Ooltewah High School’s softball coach on May 14 after 25 years at the school, has been hired to lead East Hamilton’s program.
Nelson succeeds Cara Stiles, who coached the Lady Hurricanes softball team for the past three years before stepping down to take an 11-month sabbatical.
Nelson, 49, was dismissed at Ooltewah after serving first as an assistant and the past 20 seasons as the Lady Owls’ head coach. She led Ooltewah to state championships in 1990, 1992 and 2008 and had runner-up finishes in 1994, 1995 and 1997 in her first four seasons with the Lady Owls.
East Hamilton athletic director Brad Jackson said that Nelson’s hiring was finalized Monday morning. Nelson and East Hamilton principal Gail Chuy had discussions about the Lady Hurricanes job last week, Jackson said.
“Norma brings a lot of experience to our coaching staff,” Jackson said. “She is highly regarded in the softball community. I know there were some things that happened at Ooltewah, but we’re excited to have her and I think she’ll do a great job.
“We hated to lose Cara for many reasons, one being that she did a great job here. But Norma brings an old-school mentality that I believe will go over very well here.”
Nelson, the winningest coach in Ooltewah history – in any sport – with more than 600 victories, was given a 24-hour ultimatum by Ooltewah principal Mark Bean to either resign or be fired. Nelson refused to resign and was fired the next day.
“I told (Bean) I would not quit on these girls because I’ve asked them not to quit on me,” Nelson said at the time.
Nelson could remember only one game between East Hamilton and Ooltewah and it was rained out after three innings.
“I don’t know many of the East Hamilton girls,” Nelson said Monday. “I could probably pick out three or four of them. They weren’t in our district and that one time we played them was in a tournament. We didn’t play them at all last year.”
East Hamilton, which competed in District 6-AA since the school opened, will join Ooltewah, Bradley Central, Cleveland, McMinn County, Soddy-Daisy and Walker Valley in District 5-AAA for the 2013-14 school year in the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s new four-year district alignment.
“It will be hard playing Ooltewah,” said Nelson, who will remain on the Ooltewah faculty in 2013-14 with hopes of moving to East Hamilton the following year. “They’ve always been my kids and I told them they would always be my kids and that I’d do anything for them, but I will do anything and everything to beat them. Still, it’s going to be difficult when we got over to that Ooltewah field.”
At Ooltewah, Nelson served as the District 5 chairperson for softball and hopes to continue in that role when the coaches meet in September.
Nelson also plans to continue as an assistant coach at Gordon Lee High School in Chickamauga, Ga., for “at least” one more year. Georgia plays softball in the fall while Tennessee varsity teams play a spring schedule, culminating with the state tournaments in the Spring Fling in late June.
“This will be my sixth year down there and I do it because I love the game. (Gordon Lee coach) Dana (Mull) is pregnant and expecting a baby after this coming season and I’ve really enjoyed working with her down there. My first priority, however, will be East Hamilton.”
Gordon Lee went 35-3 last season and swept Georgia Military in a two-game series (6-4 and 4-1) to win the Class A state championship.
Jackson said Nelson’s assistant will be determined in the next two weeks and that current assistant Hollie Pritchett is a possibility. Pritchett is a non-faculty coach and if she’s willing to help with the middle school program that “probably will take place,” Jackson said.
TSSAA middle school softball teams play a fall schedule – East Hamilton tryouts are scheduled for Aug. 14 – with the varsity playing in the spring.
“All that will depend on other people out there that Norma might talk to in the next week or so,” Jackson said.
Nelson, a 1989 graduate from East Ridge High School where she played softball, was promoted to the head softball coaching position in 1994, succeeding Jim Lovell, and finished second in the state tournament in three of her first four seasons.
Nelson accounted for three of Ooltewah’s five team state titles. Lovell won a softball championship in 1982 and the school’s girls basketball team captured a title in 1975.
In her last two seasons at Ooltewah, the Lady Owls went 29-14 and 22-15.
The veteran coach said Monday she’s thankful for the opportunity to coach softball at East Hamilton.
“It’s a great school, they’ve had softball success and I hope to build on that and keep it going,” Nelson said. “I’m a very happy person today.”
Jackson said Nelson is inheriting a talented group of young players in part because Stiles has built such a solid foundation for the softball program, highlighted by Spring Fling appearances in the last two seasons.
The Lady Hurricanes, who claimed their first district championship this past season, lose only two seniors – Maria Walshe and Shaliyah Geathers. The rest of the 2012-13 roster was made up of eight freshmen, three sophomores and three juniors.
Prior to joining the Lady Hurricanes, Stiles coached at Rhea County, leaving the Lady Golden Eagles’ program on May 25, 2011, to take over for Holly Hamilton at East Hamilton, 2011. Pritchett made the move from Rhea County with Stiles, who played at Soddy-Daisy High and Memphis University.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)