In his 19-and-a-half-year career, Donnie Nelson has seen the landscape of high school athletics change immensely in the Silver State.
A Junior Olympic cross country star who grew up in Pleasanton, Calif., Nelson attended the University of Nevada, became sports editor of The Record-Courier in Gardnerville and was presented with a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In 1998, Dr. Jerry Hughes, then director of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, hired Nelson to become an assistant.
“They kind of advertised it as a marketing position and we talked about sports information,” Nelson said. “I was in the right place at the right time. My degree was in journalism. It was something I loved to do. My interest is always in directing high school sports.”
Since accepting the position at the NIAA, Nelson has seen everything and wouldn’t have his career path created any differently. From the state expanding from 82 member schools to 117 during his time to helping run the NIAA Hall of Fame and Top 10 Student-Athlete dinner, Nelson’s name has been synonymous with the NIAA. Along with Jay Beeseymer, who entered the NIAA at the same time as Nelson, southern coordinator Bob Northridge and director Bart Thompson, the NIAA continues to serve the best interest of the student-athletes every year.
“The greatest thing about my job, and it goes back to April of 98, I got to create this job and create a blank slate,” said Nelson, who acts as a liaison between the media and NIAA. “In the interview, I was able to say here’s what I do. It’s evolved a lot in the 19 1/2 years. It’s expanded in a lot of capacities and policies. It’s just been our own creation. We figured it out on our own. There’s a great satisfaction in doing what we want to do. Sometimes, we take on so much than we can do, which isn’t a bad thing.”
There’s never a time when you don’t see Nelson running around a regional or state tournament. He and the NIAA staff continue to give schools the best opportunity to excel on the field while trying to balance the divisions and keep them competitive in all sports. While it’s not always the case — Bishop Gorman — for example, the NIAA was established to provide an avenue for student-athletes and coaches to succeed.
The NIAA record book, which Nelson devoted years of research to, is one of his biggest accomplishments. First published in 2001, it includes records encompassing all sports throughout the years. But there’s still work to do with the record book, among other things on the NIAA’s agenda.
“We have a long way to go,” Nelson said. “We have a staff of five running the state association. We haven’t added anybody. Every day still interesting. There’s always something new that I have to look up and answer to. It keeps it entertaining.”
Nelson, who will be the Greenwave Hall of Fame’s keynote speaker for the inaugural dinner on Oct. 7, has been one of the reasons why the NIAA Hall of Fame is so successful. Since he arrived, the annual event features a video interview of each inductee, prepared meal and a chance for the state’s greatest athletes, coaches and contributors to be recognized for their accomplishments. Nelson’s a reason why Fallon now has its own high school athletics Hall of Fame because of his help with the committee to lift this off the ground.
“Every high school should have its own Hall of Fame,” he said. “It can be athletic or combination of academics and athletics, or faculty. You get these legendary figures. They could be athletes, coaches or stats people. These people have given enormous amounts of time. I truly believe the high school is an essential ingredient of the community.”
And Fallon will get its Hall of Fame to celebrate more than a century’s worth of Greenwave excellence.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.