Jim Nichols stopped by the office last week.
Seymour’s senior crowd will remember Nichols as the baseball and basketball at Seymour High School from the fall of 1965 until the spring of 1968.
It was his first job after earning his degree from Southwest Missouri State College (now Missouri State University) in Springfield, where he played baseball for legendary coach Bill Rowe and led the Bears his senior year with a .438 batting average.
Nichols stopped by to pick up copies of a story we had published in April about his Tiger baseball squads.
In three years at the helm, his ballclubs won 50 games and lost only six. Seymour’s record in Summit Conference action was a stellar 22-2. In 1966, the Tigers were co-champions of the league.
In 1967 and 1968, Nichols’ squad was the outright conference champ.
Interestingly, Nichols also had a solid record as the Tigers’ basketball coach. In his final season of 1967-68, Seymour posted a 24-7 overall record and 7-1 mark in the conference, good for a share of the Summit championship.
“The first thing I think of is 6-19,” Nichols said with a smile.
That’s the overall record of his fi rst team.
“I played young guys that season,” he explained. “We had a bunch of good sophomores, so I played them up (on the varsity). That panned out a couple of years later when we won 24 games. I even played a freshman on the varsity that first year, Jackie Smith, who turned out to be a great athlete in both baseball and basketball.”
Nichols’ coaching career is legendary.
In the fall of 1968, he went to Lebanon, where he was the head baseball coach.
“Your story said I left (Seymour) for the basketball job in Lebanon, but I actually left to be the head baseball coach,” he explained. “I was the assistant basketball coach there.”
It wasn’t easy to leave Seymour.
“A coach often is sentimental about the first place they coached ... that first job,” Nichols said. “Seymour was that way for me. It was a great place to start, a good town.
“And I couldn’t have worked for a better man than Floyd Blankenship, the high-school principal. Floyd was the ideal principal for a coach. He let you do your thing, run your program, set your rules. He didn’t meddle, and he always had your back if you were doing the right thing.”
While at Lebanon, Nichols was drafted into the U.S. Army and did a tour overseas in the Vietnam War when the conflict was at its apex.
He returned to coaching at Raymore-Peculiar High School (known to most as Ray-Pec) just south of Kansas City, where his teams won about 85 percent of their games, including a couple of regional titles and a trip to the state quarterfinals in three seasons.
The next stop was Ozark, where he coached baseball and basketball.
In baseball, he took Ozark’s Tigers to their first trip to the “Final Four” in 1979, when state baseball was a two-class system, earning second place. After essentially starting the program in 1975, Ozark was a state power by the time he left half a decade later.
He also won 80 percent of his games as the Tigers’ head basketball coach.
Nichols then went to Mansfield.
A native of Mansfield, he coached in his hometown from 1982 to 1987.
In baseball, his Lions’ teams won more than 85 percent of their games, winning several Summit Conference and district crowns.
In basketball, Mansfield won four league titles and advanced to the Class 2A Final Four in 1985, where the Lions placed third. His coaching career in Mansfield ended with an overall record of 135-37.
But he wasn’t finished.
His final stop came at Lebanon, where again Nichols’ teams won twice as many games as they lost. Led by standout guard and scoring machine Russell Matlock, the Yellowjackets won league and district titles.
However, his first stop was Seymour.
“I really enjoyed my three years there,” Nichols said at the end of his hour-long visit at the Citizen office. “For the last three reunions of those classes from 1966, 1967 and 1968, they’ve invited me, and I had a great time.
“They were kids back then, but I wasn’t much older. In a way, I was growing up, too. I’ve coached at a lot of places and had a lot of success along the way, but I’ve got to say that my time in Seymour probably was the most peaceful.”
Hopefully, Jim won’t be a stranger.
In my book, he’s as good a guy as there is.
I could visit with him for hours.
And I’m proud to call him my friend.
* * * * * *
Reading time, one minute:
• Again, free Casey’s General Store.
Well done, Casey’s, on taking a total of three days to create one of the city’s biggest eyesores.
Those plywood planks on the front door and windows of your former Main Street store are a great touch.
Think about what this place is going to look like by the end of the year.
• Citizen intern William Wehmer has a couple of timely and interesting pieces in this week’s paper.
One is on the details of summer school in Seymour, which starts next Monday.
One is on the citywide cleanup that starts five days later on Saturday, June 6.
Both events impact lots of people.
Dan Wehmer is the Citizen’s editor, publisher and owner. He can be reached at 417-935-2257 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.