A graduate of Spanish Fork High School and Southern Utah University, Jim Nelson won six state championships as Spanish Fork’s baseball coach. Commonly known by his nickname of “Shoe,” he coached the Dons to a winning record in each of his 29 seasons. As he once observed, “The only one who calls me Jim is my wife (Patsy), and then only if she is mad at me.” About that nickname: It stems from his older siblings trying to “shoo” him away when he wanted to join their games. In any case, for the purposes of this formal occasion of being recognized as a Distinguished High School Coach by the Utah Sports Hall of Fame Foundation, he’s “Jim.”
The school has retired Jim’s No. 25 and Spanish Fork City has named the baseball park Nelson Field, in honor of his family. With a 572-183 record, he ranks No. 2 among baseball coaches in Utah high school history and first in wins at one school. His six state titles came in four decades and three classifications. The Dons also finished second three times, third eight times and fourth five times, while posting a 94-44 record in state tournament play in his tenure (and appearing in the tournament for all 29 seasons). In 2009-14, Spanish Fork won 55 consecutive region games, contributing to Jim’s total of 17 region championships.
The sport is big in Spanish Fork, obviously. The city’s youth programs long have been a model in Utah County, contributing to the remarkable consistency of the high school program. “Baseball is and will always be king in this community,” Jim said in a Salt Lake Tribune story.
And he perpetuated the town’s success, while earning a National Coach of the Year award from the American Baseball Coaches Association in 2011, when the Dons were ranked as high as No. 2 nationally. Jim has been inducted into Halls of Fame by SUU, Nebo School District and Mountain West Baseball.
While he sent more than 80 players into collegiate programs, his impact went beyond baseball. Jade Nielsen, the catcher on his last team in 2014, said, “He teaches you to be a better person. Coach always says that if you are a better person in school and in the community, you will be a better person on the field.” Jim initially was an assistant baseball coach at Spanish Fork and also helped with football and basketball.
Parents of four children, Jim and his wife, Patsy, live in Spanish Fork, where he still works at the ballpark.