CHARLOTTE – Myers Park’s girls’ basketball coach Barbara Nelson was born in Clinton, S.C., a small town with less than 10,000 people.
It’s the home of Presbyterian College, where Nelson played basketball and earned a certificate in guidance counseling.
However, the greatest education she got wasn’t from a textbook or classroom. It came from real life experiences through persevering through adversity, hard work and the influences of other people.
Nelson is the youngest of five children. Her father died when she was 8 years old, but her mother wouldn’t allow Nelson and her siblings to say they couldn’t do something. She figured out how to raise five children on her own. All five kids are college-educated.
Nelson said her mother never got in the way of her or siblings learning a hard lesson. It’s the most important thing she and her siblings gleaned from her, besides their faith in Jesus Christ.
The nine-time state champion coach guided Providence Day to seven titles and most recently hung two banners at Myers Park. Nelson didn’t reach this level of excellence overnight.
The Naismith Hall of Famer Kay Yow hired her to work her basketball camp after her coach from Presbyterian wrote the late N.C. State women’s coach a letter on Nelson’s behalf. Nelson worked Yow’s camps the next 12 summers. Yow connected her with the late Hall of Fame Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt, so Nelson could work her camps. It was a special opportunity to watch and learn from two of the sport’s coaching great. They were critical in her development as a young coach.
Yow, who left an lasting impact on Nelson’s life, told Nelson about the time when she took the risk of brining Bibles into the Soviet Union when they were outlawed, which explained how her Christian faith meant so much to her that she was willing to go to jail for it. The Wolfpack coach wrote Nelson’s first letter of recommendation, and the administration at Providence Day must have liked what Yow wrote.
Providence Day hired Nelson out of college to be an assistant coach for the girls’ varsity and the JV girls’ head coach. Nelson was promoted to varsity head coach after one season at the school.
Nelson spent 21 seasons as the head coach at Providence Day, then went to the collegiate ranks for the same role at Wingate University for five seasons before arriving at her current post at Myers Park.
The year before Nelson took the head-coaching job at Providence Day the Chargers went 0-26. They won seven games in her first year at the helm.
“The parents were telling me how wonderful it was. I’m looking at this going, ‘Y’all do know we had a losing record?,’” Nelson said.
That was the only losing season of Nelson’s career.
Nelson has been about developing kids from the very beginning, helping them reach their full potential. When Nelson arrived at Providence Day she didn’t have collegiate-caliber players, but over time, she began to draw elite level talent to the Charger program. Myers Park has seen similar talent come through the program during Nelson’s tenure.
Her role extends outside the basketball court and into the classroom as a health and P.E. teacher, giving her the opportunity to influence the lives of children in other ways.
“The thing I hold dearest to my heart is the relationships I had with kids and still have with kids the ones that are not surface the ones where you really were (able to go deep),” Nelson said.
For example, former Myers Park star guard Aliyah Mazyck still FaceTimes Nelson. They rarely discuss basketball, but talk about life and more significant things.
Nelson’s players decorated her office at Myers Park when she turned 50 years old a couple years ago. Her players did something similar except on a much grander scale when she turned 30 years old during her tenure at Providence Day. They filled her yard with things older people might need, including a toilet seat walker, adult diapers and flamingos.
“You think back to that they thought enough of you that they wanted even if it was in a funny way to celebrate something that was happening in your life instead of you always celebrating theirs,” Nelson said. “I love the relationships. You can choose to cultivate them with kids, and kids can choose to cultivate that back and respond.”
Basketball has given Nelson several exciting opportunities. Nelson took Providence Day to Australia and Hawaii in 2003. She and her players raised $25,000 to take 20 people on the 19-day trip, including her mother and children. Nelson also got to coach USA Basketball’s 16 and under team in 2009 and its 17 and under team in 2010. She and a couple of other coaches ran a five-day basketball clinic at the World Championships in Turkey through the Turkish Federation in 2011.
Nelson believes Yow, Summitt and North Carolina’s women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell have helped pave the way for her. Now, she wants to pay it forward by doing all she can for the next generation of young ladies, who are coming up through the basketball ranks as players and coaches.