BY PETE MOHR | JULY 21, 2010
CSHS – Many readers, I’m sure, have never heard of (much less gotten to know) Merle Nelson, primarily because Falcon Wrestling is, as a spectator sport, off-the-radar; and during football season, they’ve had no reason to be in the press box, where Coach Nelson has been the diligent clock operator. About himself, Merle Nelson is a no-profile kind of guy, always giving his best without making a fuss. “Modesty” is his byword.
At some point in the late spring, I was told that Merle Nelson was “retiring” after six seasons of head coaching Cactus Shadows wrestling. Not long thereafter, I decided to recognize his service to Falcon athletics by naming him 2009-2010 Boys Coach- of-the -Year.
A small way, if you will, to say “Hail and farewell!” to a dedicated coach and good man. Now I find running through my head one of my favorite Waylon Jennings’ ballads, “It’s Not Supposed To End This Way.” But sadly, it has.
Merle Nelson didn’t have to teach or coach at Cactus Shadows. He and Julie, his lovely wife and partner of 40 years (who supplied a “custom menu” for Merle’s wrestlers at every meet and tournament), had retired to Anthem in 2002 after a successful 30-year teaching-coaching career in the state of Washington. Born May 14, 1949 in Seattle, Merle graduated with a B.A. in Mathematics from Western Washington University, Bellingham, Wash. His career in high school teaching and coaching followed.
“I couldn’t sit at home,” he amusedly recalled for Sonoran News; so in 2003, he taught 8th grade math at STMS. Two years later, when Jim Marando departed for the athletic directorship at Willow Canyon, Merle became head wrestling coach and a member of the CSHS Mathematics Department.
It wasn’t easy for “Coach Merle” to describe 2009-2010 to me as “the worst year I’ve ever had. I felt underused in the classroom and I was discouraged by administration instability – especially the lack of support and involvement at the athletic director level.” Undermined by a disgruntled STMS wrestling parent, Merle Nelson also had “run into dead-ends trying to build the (wrestling) program – especially with young kids.”
After the end of the 2009-2010 season, which had disappointingly rostered no freshman wrestlers, Principal Steve Bebee and (then) Athletic Director Mark Huston made the decision (according to Principal Bebee) “to open up the (wrestling) position to see who might be out there.” Understandably, Merle Nelson declined to apply for the coaching position he’d held for six years. Manfully, he told this interviewer, “I was too old for that.”
Readers need to understand that it is entirely within Principal Bebee’s authority to hire and fire any coach. I hope that he and new Athletic Director Rick Swearengin, with near-pitiable compensation to offer, will find a new head wrestling coach who’ll be successful in building a full complement program. Can a new coach restore competitive physicality as an athletic value to be admired by Cactus Shadows boys? Will Cactus Shadows football ever again cross-pollinate Falcon wrestling? Neither will happen overnight. Principal Bebee accepts that reality.
For Merle and Julie Nelson, I’m glad that no longer will they have to swim upstream; and I hope they will accept that my nomination of “Coach Merle” as 2009-2010 Boys “Coach-of-the-Year” will gather many, many seconders.