Moving to higher ground

Published 11:54 pm Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ron Nichols will assume a higher position at Dallas County football games this year.

The man of many hats, who was an assistant coach for the Hornets in 2008 and has coached varying sports in the last seven years, will leave the sidelines to operate the game clock at home games and drive the band bus to away games.

“Anything I can do to help my school because this is my school,” said Nichols. “I just want to be a part. I’m still going to the game, so I figured, ‘Why not drive the band bus?’”

Nichols’ absence from the sidelines was not part of a staff shakeup after Darryl Burns replaced John Higgins as head football coach. Nichols was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2005. He lost the left kidney, and the right kidney shut down. He undergoes an eight-hour dialysis treatment daily.

The battle with his condition weakened him, but he continued his teaching career at Maplesville High School, where he coached football, basketball, baseball and girls softball from 2002-07. He was head girls softball coach in 2007 before leaving to teach math at Dallas County.

Though he assisted the Hornet football team last year, his medical condition limited his work to Fridays. As the 2009 season drew closer, he said he knew he wouldn’t be up to coaching.

“This year I just knew I didn’t have the strength to get out there on the field,” Nichols said. “Pastor at church. I would love to go back into coaching, but I know I would never do that because of my health.”

Nichols believes the health problems are part of God’s plan for him. He wants to become a school administrator, but administrators are not allowed to coach. With his condition, Nichols is ready to give up a return to the field to pursue his next goal.

He is no stranger to signs from above. That’s how he transitioned from the Navy to a career in the ministry. Nichols has been the pastor at Assembly of God Church in Brent since 1983. He began his new path after a life-changing POW rescue attempt in 1980.

Nichols said he and the 11 other men who went on the mission did not know exactly where they went, and were not told. He does know 12 went in, and only two made it out.

Nichols, who was a corpsman and dental technician, found a South Vietnamese POW in a pit and pulled him out. He and his men had run out of bullets, but he slung the POW over his shoulder and joined the other soldiers in fighting the guards off with knives.

“Only reason I’m alive today is because I threw that poor old man, who probably weighed less than 100 pounds, over my shoulder, and as we were fighting hand-to-hand, with my knife and their knives, and I killed four of them,” Nichols said. “He was just cut up and stabbed up to death because as they were swinging their knives, they were hitting him.

“That really made me realize that life is precious. People’s souls are worthy enough to be saved. We’ve got to try to save these kids physically and spiritually. That ordeal just helped me realize, God’s good.”

Though he has been in the ministry for most of his adult life, he has only been teaching for 6 1/2 years. He said he wants to be a good example, and believes teaching and maintaining a role with the football program — for now — will allow him to do that.

“We need more godly men in schools,” Nichols said. “We need a lot more godly men to be men to these young folks. They just need role models. If I can just help one child, then it’s well worth it.”

And though he may not be on the sidelines when the Hornets open the season, Nichols will still be coaching.

“I’m not a good fan,” he said. “By me getting up high, I can run the clock and coach with the official sitting beside me and say, ‘What do you think about that?’”