Fifty years as a coach and Cliff Nixon shows no signs of slowing down
It’s raining, it’s cold and it’s certifiably miserable out on the Bellevue High School track, but one man is still smiling.
Cliff Nixon – and he’s been smiling for 50 years.
After only two minutes with the Bellevue co-head coach, it becomes apparent. Not one person can pass by Nixon without getting a word of encouragement from him. And not one person passes by the coach without a smile forming on their face.
He does that to people, says his fellow head coach John Hill, who coaches track and cross country with Nixon at Bellevue. He’s been doing that to people, Hill said, since he started to coach in 1959.
“He’s just in the amazing business, I guess,” Hill said Friday, while the Wolverines prepared for Saturday meets. “He’s always been that person you see here today. There’s not one place in Washington that I’ve been with him where someone hasn’t asked, ‘Hey, aren’t you Mr. Nixon?’
Inducted into the Washington State Track and Field and Cross Country Hall of Fame in 1999, Nixon is 72 going on 25 with no signs of slowing down.
This year, his 50th year of coaching track and field and cross country, produces just as much passion as the first year. A former coach at Tyee Junior High, Interlake High School, Newport High School and Mercer Island High School, Nixon is in his second stint with the Wolverines. He returned in 1997 to help Hill, who he coached at Bellevue in the 1980’s.
“I still enjoy it,” Nixon said in between shouts of encouragement to the Bellevue runners. “These are good kids, bright kids.”
The man who hasn’t missed a day of coaching in 50 years lives his life by one ideal with 11 concepts that he spreads to the kids: Be Wholesome. The principles include such tenants as “Respect,, “Support People,, “Be Healthy” and “Kindness”
“My mom taught me that one,” said Nixon, who was one of 14 children.
The principles are a means to an end; success, hard work, competitiveness, all with a smile on the face.
“He’s got a really strong way of making people feel good,” Hill said. “He has a sense of competitiveness that is infectious; he wants to win at everything he does. But he’s been able to combine the notions of competition and fun and make it seem as natural as it should be.
“Not everybody can grasp that.”
Now coaching the children of some of his athletes from earlier in his career, each Wolverine gets the individual attention Nixon specializes in handing out.
“If you’re not the best runner or the best athlete, he’ll still set you a goal,” said junior distance runner Jordan Jones. “He makes you feel special. He’s definitely inspired me to do the best I can in life and in track, with a smile on my face.”
It’s not just Bellevue that gets Nixon’s encouragement. Every team gets that treatment. That’s rule No. 5: Encouraging people.
“I want everyone to do their best; I love all the kids,” Nixon said. “Why wish someone bad luck? There’s enough bad things in life without wishing someone bad.”
For a man who has overcome multiple tragedies, including the death of his best friend and brother Terry, who passed away from cancer at age 36, the smile rarely fades from the coach’s face.
“He’s just such a dynamic coach,” says Bellevue senior Colin Rice, a cross country and track member who has had Nixon for eight seasons. “He can have so much love for everybody. It’s just amazing.”
“He’s basically sacrificed his life of means to invest in other people,” Hill said. “I don’t think he’d have it any other way.”
Nixon says he’ll keep coaching until his health says otherwise; he calls Hill and assistant coaches Bob Burmeister and Mark Nakamichi “3 of his 12 future pallbearers.” The remaining nine, fittingly, are also coaches.
“These guys are my friends and these kids are just great,” Nixon said. “Athletics, what a great thing it is. It’s just such a wholesome activity.”
The rainy practice is over, and the relay teams make their way off the track. As they retreat to prepare for the next day’s meets, Nixon yells out one last question to the athletes.
“Don’t you love it when you have a great day?”
For Cliff Nixon, every day’s a great day. Especially today. Although tomorrow’s probably going to be pretty great too.
Joel Willits can be reached at 425-453-4270 ext 5060 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.