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As varsity football head coach and history teacher at Fike High, Tom Nelson wasn’t exactly looking for more things to do as he approaches his eighth season leading the Golden Demons.
However, when the job of athletic director became available, Nelson embraced the role. He will succeed Toni Varacchi, the Lady Demons soccer coach who has served as Fike AD since 2011.
“The opportunity came up and I felt it was the way I could help the school through this transition,” Nelson said. “It’s not something I was planning on but it presented itself and I hope to do a good job for Fike and our coaches and our athletes.”
Fike Principal Randy St. Clair said that Nelson is a great liaison to the community.
“Coach Nelson is a community guy and one thing that we will be trying to do at Fike High School is make sure that we do connect to our community,” St. Clair said. “He’s well known in the coaching world as well and, most importantly, he takes the care of students and children very seriously.
“So, I think for those reasons, along with his vision for wanting to ensure that Fike has an outstanding athletics program — and not just one particular sport, but in every sport — is why we believe he’s the best person for the job.”
Nelson was co-athletic director with Jody O’Neal at Beddingfield, where he was also the varsity football head coach from 2002 to 2006. He spent five years as head football coach at North Johnston before returning to Fike in 2011. Nelson began his coaching career at his alma mater, Hunt High, as an assistant coach after graduating from Lees-McRae College, where he played football.
Nelson and his wife, Emily, have three daughters — Reily, Reece and Reagan. He may find more time in his schedule with oldest daughter, Reily, headed off to Western Carolina University as a freshman member of the Catamounts women’s soccer team. Reece is a rising junior at Fike and Reagan will be in eighth grade at Elm City Middle.
Nelson grinned at the suggestion that the extra income will help with a lot of college tuition checks on the horizon to write.
“That doesn’t hurt at all!” he said. “I stepped away from being AD years ago because our girls were young and they were involved in a lot and I wanted to spend as much time with them as I could. Now we’ve got one off at college and the two other ones are older and I have a little more time that I can devote to it and really devote the time to try to do it well.”
Nelson pointed out that Glenn Jones will continue in his role as assistant AD at Fike, which is key to his transition.
“That’s going to be a great help because he’s been in that role for several years and he’s familiar and comfortable with the operation,” Nelson said. “So he’s going to be a great benefit to me and Fike as we make this transition.”
Certainly on football Friday nights when Nelson will be preoccupied with calling plays on the sideline, instead of “buses, ticket takers, gate workers — all the things that go on behind the scenes that folks aren’t aware that just come to watch a game.”
St. Clair declined to specify the reason for the change, though he did confirm that the switch was not related to Varacchi’s brief suspension and subsequent full reinstatement as physical education teacher, coach and AD this spring following a complaint from the parents of a Fike girls soccer player.
Nelson praised the job Varacchi did in her tenure, including guiding Fike to Wells Fargo Conference Cup championships in the 3-A Big East Conference the past two years.
“Really, though, Coach Varacchi did a fine job as AD and the program is really in a good state,” he said. “We’re financially sound and almost all the coaches are in place. Our facilities are in good shape, so, really, it’s just a matter of stepping in and getting my feet wet and getting accustomed to all the new technology that wasn’t around when I was AD the last time as far as scheduling online and all the things with the NCHSAA — eligibility forms online, just that kind of thing. Just catching up. When I was last AD, we were not as technologically savvy.”
Nelson said that his most pressing duties were to find new volleyball and cross-country coaches as previous coaches Jaleesa Harper and Greg Yarbrough, respectively, had tendered notification that they wouldn’t return.
“Since I’ve taken on this role I have searched the world over for a volleyball coach and a cross-country coach. I think we are going to get both of those squared away today,” Nelson said.
Nelson is the eighth athletic director in Fike’s 60-year history. Paul Marklin, who was the head football coach when Fike opened its doors in October 1958, functioned in the role of AD for several years until Gilbert Ferrell, for whom the Fike baseball field is named, assumed the post. After Ferrell came Harvey Reid Jr., Eddie Summerlin, John Gay, Kim Brown and Varacchi. Ferrell, Reid and Summerlin are all members of the Fike High Athletic Hall of Fame.
“It’s a great honor and very humbling to be on that list with those names and we’re going to try hard to keep Fike on top of athletics in Wilson County and in our conference,” Nelson assured.