When Tim Nelson became the Hopkinton High School wrestling coach, he was just 20 years old and only two years removed from his own high school career on the mat. Knee injuries left him unable to continue wrestling, but he wanted to stay involved in the sport.
Nearly two decades later, Nelson is leaving the Hillers to focus on his family. He said he made the decision before the winter wrestling season began, but he kept it to himself until after the season.
“It was a very hard decision to make just because I love this program and it’s all I’ve known,” Nelson said. “I love the community, I love the town of Hopkinton, everything about it.”
But now Nelson said he has a son who is thinking of getting into wrestling and asking whether his dad will be his coach.
“It’s a difficult decision to continue coaching other people’s kids, which I loved, when my own children want me around and to coach them,” he said.
Nelson said it will be tough for him this Thanksgiving when he isn’t getting ready for a wrestling season for the first time in 30 years. He said what he will miss the most are the relationships he’s developed with his athletes.
“I’ve seen these kids who come in as 14-year-old freshmen, and some of them don’t know anything about the sport, they’ve taught me a lot of father figure-type values I try to instill in my own kids,” Nelson said.
When Nelson started, he had athletes just three or four years younger than him, and they were looking to him for advice and leadership.
“You spend a lot of time with these kids and you learn hard lessons, develop work ethic, discipline, and the ability to bounce back physically and emotionally,” Nelson said. “There is so much the sport can do to prepare you for life after.”
But Nelson also wanted his team to compete at a high level, and the Hillers have been able to do that through the years. The program crowned its first state champion in 2007 when Eric DeWolfe won a title. Nelson guided the Hillers to their first sectional title as a team in 2014 without having a single individual sectional champion.
“We kind of came out of nowhere, we had 11 guys play, and it was just a total team effort,” he said. “We only won the tournament by two points, so it literally took everybody.”
That season, Nelson earned Coach of the Year honors in the section. Hopkinton finished as the runner-up to Nashoba the following season. More recently, Nelson has twice coached Josh Sokol to the finals of the all-state meet and the New England championships. The growing program also had its highest turnout this past winter.
Nelson said he hoped that assistant coach Corey Mills would take over the team, and his wish was granted when Mills was named to the post on April 26.
“I feel like the program is in good shape,” Nelson said, adding that he would not be surprised to find himself coaching at the high school level again in the future, once his kids are a bit older.
“I am looking forward to the next chapter,” he said.