Hung Up His Cleats

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I dropped some stuff off at the Barrys’ house the other day, where Mrs. Barry was preparing to go to a memorial service. It was, she said, the fourth such service she’d been to in two weeks. I’ve been to two recently (not in quite the same short time span, but close) and should have gone to one more last week, for Mary Esther Field, former owner of my favorite downtown store, the Circus Train, and a longtime champion of and for the business community.

But I just couldn’t bring myself to go. I don’t have Mrs. Barry’s fortitude, apparently. Sue Bartsch, who also has more fortitude than me, did go and said it was a really nice tribute to Mrs. Field. (I think the most heroic thing Mrs. Field ever did, after her husband left her to marry another woman, one not nearly his first wife’s caliber, was forgive him and take him back.)

And now I should be going to another service, but I’ll miss this one as well, because it’s in Pueblo. Among the obituaries in the Gunnison Country Times yesterday was one for Larry Nims, who died Oct. 4.

The last time I saw him was — of course — at a memorial service, for Paul Coleman, who taught and coached at Western Then State. Mr. and Mrs. Nims made the effort to drive over from Pueblo for a service that was really more “old home week,” and I did think about that yesterday when I read the paper, but I’m not going to get to Pueblo.

Larry Nims, who made it to 84 despite smoking many, many (many) packs of unfiltered Lucky Strike cigarettes, was a teacher and coach at Gunnison High School for nearly three decades, and he and I go way back.

Although he was teaching when I was a student at GHS, our paths did not cross in the classroom until I needed to take driver’s ed the summer before my junior year. He was the teacher, and here is the conversation we held all summer long: “That was not a stop.” “It was, too. I counted to 10.” “That was not a stop.”

He took Susan Spann and I up to Monarch Pass, where Susan drove up and I brought the car down [how many of those trips do you suppose he made over the span of his career?], and although I had to use my brakes after he said a careful driver wouldn’t need them (damn semi truck in my way), he told my dad, a teammate on their summer fast-pitch softball team, that I drove the pass “like a champ.”

One year when I had a hole in my schedule I worked as a student aide for the main office, held down by secretaries Jean Douglas and Joyce Nims, Larry’s wife. His son Geoff, whom I called Howard because he idolized Howard Cosell (I can’t explain it, either), and I were friends.

Then I went to work for the newspaper, covering sports, which meant seeing lots of Larry Nims. He was the athletic director for awhile and coached just about anything you could think of. I believe he was one of my sister Terri’s basketball coaches. He loved baseball. I don’t recall him coaching football, although he did; when he found out my favorite team was the Rams he gave me a framed set of Rams players’ trading cards straight from the front office where his brother worked.

I remember overhearing him one night during a set of four basketball games [how many of those do you suppose I sat through in 10 years?] as he talked to a longtime coach from Delta, who had just switched from the boys’ team to the girls’. “Coaching girls is completely different,” I heard the man from Delta say, totally astounded by this revelation. Larry Nims just smiled and said, “Oh, yes.” He had learned that one a long time ago, and rolled with it really well.

Coach Nims was a good motivator and a thorough coach. I saw him get mad, but never heard him shout at anyone, not official nor opposing coach nor player. He brought a lot of respect to whatever game was in front of him, and he commanded a lot of respect, too.

And while I never took a class from him in history, we had conversations about our mutual interest in this topic. Except for once, when I had a question about the Wobblies (the IWW that unionized workers in the ’20 and ’30s) and my timing was bad. His team had just lost a sub-district playoff game, and I had already moved on, back to questions I had regarding the article I was reading from a stack of history magazines I had found belonging to my dad. (Those were nice magazines, and I have no idea what happened to them.) But it was his team and his loss, and he wasn’t moving on as readily as I was. “I can’t talk to you about that right now,” he said.

I should have already known, having lived around Terri my whole life, that sports means more to some people than they do to me, but this was a reminder that sticks with me still.

The high school, which has been rearranged mightily since those days, had a side entrance that led down a hall to the main office, and was my usual avenue of arrival during my reporting days. Between the door and the main office was a small room that had belonged to the school nurse, but budget cuts had done away with that position, and Mr. Nims used it as his office, so I often saw him as I was coming and going.

Shortly before he retired and moved away to Pueblo, he was trying to cut down, if not quit, his cigarette habit. I, a fervid anti-smoker, was appalled when he was proud of himself for cutting back to one pack a day. But he was trying, and that was the main thing. I think he tried moving to a filtered cigarette, but hated those worse than going cold turkey.

I don’t know that the cigarettes did him in, but they can’t have helped. His nicely-written obituary (“He coached football, basketball, baseball, boys, girls, teams that lost, and teams that won, doing things the right way throughout”) doesn’t list a cause of death, but in lieu of flowers, donations to a hospice and palliative care organization are suggested.

A few weeks ago a man was in our shop looking for GHS shirts. Gilly, as she always does, struck up a conversation, and despite his Texas drawl, he said he had graduated from GHS in the early ’80s. I looked harder, and thought it might be Mike Nims, Larry’s younger son. That turned out to be the case (he didn’t recognize me either, so it worked out), and he was on his way to visit his folks. [He has lived in Houston since graduating from Colorado Mines, so I suppose that’s where the drawl kicks in.]

He didn’t say anything about his dad being in poor health, but he did say he would tell his parents “hi” for me. Hopefully he did that, and I got one last “chance” to have a short but always enjoyed hallway conversation with Mr. “Coach” Nims.


3 thoughts on “Hung Up His Cleats

  1. Nice blog. I am very saddened by this news. He was my basketball coach my senior year in high school. His first year coaching girls sports. In all my years of playing basketball, he was far and away the best coach I ever had. I’m glad I got the opportunity to play for him and to know him a little bit. I am sad knowing he’s no longer with us and I will treasure the memories I have.


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