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With just a few days remaining until she starts her new job, Vicki Nelms is trying to put the final touches on her old one.
Nelms, the athletic director at Los Alamos High School, the post she’s occupied for the past seven years, will be leaving to become the athletic director at Clackamas High School in Oregon.
She will officially take over that job July 1, but she will be leaving Los Alamos mid-month and head to the Pacific Northwest.
As she’s wrapping the Los Alamos chapter of her life up, Nelms said everything appears to be in good shape moving forward.
“The biggest challenge right now is getting Ann Stewart up to speed as much as possible,” said Nelms, who sat down with the Los Alamos Monitor last week. “And just finishing up projects that I had that I want to leave finished...get things to where I feel comfortable that there’s not a lot left for her to do except get a girls basketball coach hired.”
One of the last meetings of her tenure at Los Alamos was to attend the final District 2-4A meeting as well as the first District 2-5A meeting – Los Alamos, along with Bernalillo, Española Valley, Capital and newcomer Del Norte, will compete in 2-5A starting in the fall. Stewart, who will officially take over as the AD July 1, was scheduled to go with her to those meetings.
One of the traps Nelms said Stewart will have to avoid is being too critical of any applicants for the girls basketball program. Stewart was the girls basketball coach until she stepped down to accept the AD’s position.
“Once you move to this side of the desk, you’ve really got to try to change some of your thoughts and philosophies,” said Nelms, who herself has been a basketball coach at both the prep and the collegiate levels prior to coming to Los Alamos. “When you’re interviewing a basketball coach as she is, you always tend to look, ‘OK, are they going to be as good as I was?’ I think you always have that, but my thought is you always want to bring in someone better than you. I think that’s the goal.”
Nelms was hired in 2007, replacing another seven-year veteran at the helm of Los Alamos High School athletics, Robert Abney. When she was hired, Nelms had never visited Los Alamos, coming from Industrial High School in Vanderbilt, Texas.
She will now take her nearly 35 years of experience as a coach, teacher and administrator to Clackamas, a suburb of Portland.
Clackamas is a large and growing school district and is projected to be one of the biggest districts in the state in the near future.
Nelms said the good news for her going in is that most of the heavy off-season lifting has been done. She won’t have to go in and hire any personnel right away, so that will be something she won’t have to worry about.
Among the first items on her checklist when she gets there is to learn about who she’s working with.
“Getting to know my coaches, I think that’s first and foremost,” she said. “I’ve been talking with the AD that’s there now. We talk about the different issues, things that are happening. The first thing is I want to get to know my coaches, what do they need, what are their concerns.”
Like Los Alamos, Clackamas is actually moving into a new conference in Oregon this coming fall. Nelms said in that conference, it so happens there will be several new ADs coming in this season, as well.
Clackamas, also like Los Alamos, has been generally competitive in most athletics in recent years. This past spring, the Cavaliers baseball team, which finished 21-8-1 in 2014, advanced to the quarterfinal round of the Class 6A tournament, losing a tough 2-1 decision for the right to go to the semifinals.
Likewise, Clackamas’ football team also made the quarterfinals in 2013 before losing to eventual 6A champion Central Catholic.
While at Los Alamos, Nelms oversaw a few big renovation projects of the school system’s athletic facilities.
Most sports fans around the country might have seen the overhaul at both Sullivan Field — which got new turf prior to the 2010 fall season — and Griffith Gymnasium’s façade, but Nelms said it was the field at Los Alamos Middle School that ended up being the biggest challenge for the school district.
“The middle school field had to be one of the worst in New Mexico,” Nelms said. “I spent many summers out there with the fire hose, trying to water that field. We got turf in there, track in there, we’ve redone the shot put and discus area. We’ve got new bleachers that are going to be installed starting (Monday), so we’ll have some actual bleachers in there.”
Nelms, who was interviewed by a newspaper in Oregon last week, said she was asked if she was underwhelmed by Clackamas’ facilities when she saw them.
“It wasn’t that I was underwhelmed by Clackamas, but I’m so proud of our facilities,” she said. “I think we have the best turf in the state — I was not a proponent of turf for the longest time, but I started taking a few classes and started talking with some experts in the field. I knew in the long run it would save us some money to going to that and it would allow us to play more home events.”
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing during Nelms’ tenure, of course.
For each of the last two Januarys, basketball coaches have stepped down, both of those coming just days before the start of district play. Stewart got the girls basketball job in January 2013, replacing Tarah Logan, while Mike Kluk was named interim head coach in January of this year after the sudden, abrupt departure of Fil Dominguez.
While both Logan and Dominguez officially resigned for family considerations, there were player grumblings in both programs just prior to their leaving.
Just a couple of months before Logan’s resignation, Nelms had to deal with another sticky issue involving a former Hilltopper football player, who had previously been on suspension violation of the school’s no-use policy, who was again found with a bag that had trace amounts of marijuana during a search of his vehicle on the LAHS campus.
The incident got nasty, with top administrators at the public schools getting involved and one even bringing up the possibility of litigation if the player was not reinstated.
Nelms has barely spoken publicly about the incident, but was on the side of the player’s suspension before the Los Alamos School Board, by a 3-2 vote, moved to reinstate him.
One of Nelms’ ongoing challenges had been to keep a cohesive relationship between the school’s swimming programs and the area’s club teams, which rarely will have anything to do with one another.
To compound that problem for this coming winter, the Larry R. Walkup Center will be closing in August and isn’t scheduled to reopen until November, spilling into the time when the Hilltoppers will be starting preseason workouts.
One of the final duties at LAHS for Nelms was as master of ceremonies for the Senior Athlete Award Ceremony May 29.
As the ceremony came to an end, Nelms got a bit choked up at the podium while thanking the coaches and administrators that she’d worked with in the seven years she’s been on the Hill.
While she said she’s excited about her new opportunity — exhilaration similar to what she felt the first time she came to Los Alamos — she said part of her will always be a Hilltopper.
“I have mixed feelings,” she said. “It’s sad being a community you’ve been a part of. This community accepted an outsider, and I’ve poured a lot into this place. But I’m proud of everything we’ve been able to accomplish. Sure, I have some things that I wish I could’ve done better, or made a bigger impact on, but when I see our facilities, our kids and our coaches…where else can you find that kind of thing?”