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Kickin' back

Hurricanes coachsavors last season

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2003

It would be hard to think of Citrus High without Bruce Nelson coming to mind. The 56-year-old is a fixture on the sideline and in the classroom. Nelson, in his 22nd season as girls basketball coach, also served one year as a girls assistant and two years as the boys coach. He also is the boys cross country coach.

But Nelson is in his last season as girls basketball coach, though he will continue to coach boys cross country next year so he doesn't go "absolutely nuts." Luckily, the new 51-inch television Nelson got for Christmas should provide some entertainment.

Nelson recently kicked back with Times writer Kristen Leigh Porter, whom he joked is young enough to have played for him when he still could have been considered an old coach.

* * *

KLP: Is there any difference between coaching boys and coaching girls?

BN: I used to answer that question that you have to coach them all the same; they're athletes and kids. But it isn't exactly the same, and I think that's oversimplifying it.

KLP: In what ways, then?

BN: Girls are a little more up-and-down in terms of their performance. I think also girls are a little more emotional and you've got to be careful what you say. I'm old-school, and I have to really bite my tongue sometimes of what comes out of my mouth. I'm so competitive, and I want them to do so well, and I'm kind of like an old drill instructor and I'm pushing, pushing, pushing. And you've just got to learn a soft word probably is more effective than a harsh word.

KLP: Anything else?

BN: The girls ask more questions; they want to know why. Boys just say, "Okay, coach, whatever you say." The boys simply play. When they can't get along with each other, it doesn't matter. They just focus on the game. The girls have got to be in harmony with one another, and they've got to like each other. If there's hard feelings on the team, one to another, it's going to show up big time.

KLP: What does this basketball season mean to you because it's your last?

BN: I'm just enjoying every game, and I'm real aware that this is it. This is what I've done my entire life. I'm enjoying the season and am excited about our success. Every practice is something special because it is the last of it.

KLP: Are there any preparations for the end?

BN: No, I'm not doing anything out of the ordinary or anything special. The last time I saw (late assistant coach) Sharon (Bomse), we went out for breakfast the week before she had the stroke. She kept in contact with all the old kids, and she was going to do a big retirement party and invite everybody in. She was all organized and had it all set up. That would have been fun, but it simply didn't work out.

KLP: How well do you keep in touch with your former players and students?

BN: I see some of the old kids for one reason or the other they get back in town or they're around. They call up and stop by, and it's one of those real special things for old coaches. I look over the career. Sometimes the kids I taught in class, I've really got to think hard and probably can't remember the names at all. You certainly remember all your athletes. You remember their personalities, you remember their performances and things like that, and you certainly remember their names.

KLP: What are some of your basketball memories, especially about the 1994 final four team?

BN: That bunch had good chemistry and really played well together besides the fact they had a superstar in Kristy White. For Julie Garcia, who went on to play pro softball, basketball wasn't her game at all, but she just had the greatest senior year and improved so much. Kerryann Cook was the captain of that team, and she played the whole year with a torn ACL. She just absolutely refused to give up, and she limped around. Everyone wondered, "How the world does he play her and get away with it?" But she was the smartest thing on two legs and ran the whole program and was constantly dishing out huge assists. Certainly that team sticks in my mind.

KLP: And what about this year's team, which has won 13 games?

BN: We were talking Friday morning about how one of our goals is to win 20 games this year. I had three 20-game winning seasons with the girls, and we'd like to go join that group.

KLP: Any ideas about your successor?

BN: My junior varsity coach, Cheri Martone, who played for me but was Cheri Szydlo back then. I don't think it's any surprise that I want Cheri to replace me. I don't know what (Citrus activities director) Vicki Overman's going to do. There are other people they might consider. But I would just love to see one of my former players step in and take my spot. That's kind of a dream come true. Cheri's just doing a great job with the junior varsity. They've only got one loss and she's just real good with the kids, and it's fun having her out there and seeing her at practice ... She held every school record we had in rebounding and scoring until we got Kristy White and Joy Porter. Joy and Kristy both played Division I basketball (at Florida State and Florida Atlantic) in college.

KLP: But all and all, there'll be plenty to look back on ... ?

BN: You remember some of the exciting points, and you remember some of the down points. I think most important isn't so much the wins and losses but the really fine children I got to work with and see grow up into very successful adults.

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