Wood River High School has its first homegrown varsity baseball coach and his name, not surprisingly, is Nelson.
Hailey native Matt Nelson, 29, was named this week by the Blaine County School District to succeed Lars Hovey. Nelson becomes only the second head coach in the history of a prep program that started in 1992.
Wood River High School athletic director Ron Martinez said Nelson was the only applicant for the coaching job.
Nelson, a 1995 Wood River High School graduate, attended North Idaho College in Coeur d'Alene and Eastern Oregon University. He graduated from the University of Idaho in Dec. 2004 with a bachelor's degree in elementary education.
The father of 16-month-old daughter Taylor Nelson and the husband of Blaine County deputy prosecutor Angela Nelson, Matt Nelson lives in Hailey. He expects to complete his new staff including an assistant coach and junior varsity coach by Thanksgiving.
The new coach comes from a family that is synonymous with youth baseball in the Wood River Valley. The annual Ray Nelson Little League tournament is named for Matt Nelson's grandfather, the late Ray Nelson, and Matt's father David was a longtime baseball coach.
Prior to 1992, when Hovey and Norm Cook started the Wood River baseball program as co-coaches, the Nelson family along with baseball enthusiasts like Larry Lloyd pushed successfully for the high school to take up the spring sport.
Matt Nelson was a four-year starter for the first Wood River baseball teams from 1992-95. In the summer he played American Legion baseball and batted .436 for the 29-9 Legion team of 1994 that qualified for the State American Legion tournament.
Nelson, a first-year sixth-grade teacher of mathematics, science and health at Hailey's Wood River Middle School, said he's excited about the opportunity to lead a Wolverine baseball program that has earned statewide respect over 14 years.
"One of the best things that has ever happened to me is being a teacher," said Nelson, son of David and Chris Nelson of Hailey. "I don't expect much to change in a great baseball program that has been established by Lars Hovey. We'll continue to build the character and competitive spirit that you need to succeed in the world."
Like Hovey, Nelson is expected to oversee the American Legion summer baseball program. Nelson was introduced Monday at the annual meeting of the Wood River Baseball Association that organizes local programs for youth ages 9-19.
He didn't need much introduction.
Nelson's first and only baseball head coaching job was in 2000, when he guided the Wood River Legion baseball team to a 37-15 record and second place in the district. That squad, co-coached by Matt's cousin Brian, went 16-4 in tournament games, made the state tournament for the first time since 1994 and set numerous records for wins and games played.
Nelson said he will emphasize discipline and fundamentals, and will "try to do the best I can cooperating with the rest of the Wood River High School coaching staff."
This fall, he has been helping coach Jim King with the Wood River Middle School seventh-grade football program.
Nelson will have his work cut out for him next spring because Wood River has lost quite a few players.
Last year's Hailey baseball team had nine seniors and went 20-9—barely missing a seventh straight trip to the state tourney. Wood River (35-2 home since 2002) won its 10th regular-season league pennant in 14 years and fifth straight.
Hovey (227-168-1 in 14 seasons as the helm) resigned Aug. 29 in the midst of a disagreement with school administration about a new Blaine County policy dealing with athletes who play sports out of season. Hovey, 42, coached the 2003 state championship team and guided the American Legion baseball program since 2001.
Nelson said he expects Hovey to continue to be involved in Wood River baseball and will help in scheduling of the Legion summer games.