HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY — A Hillsborough County employee has been recognized as one of the best coaches in the country. However, if you ask her team, she’s already in the hall of fame because she makes them feel like a champion every day.
When Darlene Nelson starts calling, her students start running. She’s more than just a coach, she’s an inspiration.
“She’s positive and when we are sad she tries to cheer us up,” said 10-year-old Anai Kelly
Coach Darlene has been motivating children through the Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation Department for the past 24 years.
“To be able to make a difference in a child’s life is priceless, and that's what I strive for, that's why I get up every morning to come to work, to make a difference,” said Nelson.
The children may think they are getting a lesson in basketball, but learning to shoot a free throw is just part of the overall goal.
“A lot of participants gravitate toward sports so if you can grasp them, you can teach them life skills through something that they love so much, it’s very important,” said Nelson.
This year Coach Darlene’s efforts were recognized by the Positive Coaching Alliance. She was one of 100 people nationwide to receive the Double-Goal Coach Regional Award. She said it felt like the entire after-school program won a championship.
“I was giving hugs out every five or six seconds, they were just excited, they went home, told their parents, I got so many phone calls,” said Nelson.
Nelson is now in the running for national coach of the year.
“I would say my favorite thing about Coach Darlene is how she helps us when we don’t know stuff,” said Levi Herrick.
“Being a coach to me means being reliable, being dependable, being loyal to my program.,” said Nelson. “They know that they can always come to me and I’m always going to be there for them.”
She said one of the best parts of the job is watching former students grow up to become coaches themselves.
“It’s rewarding, it's so rewarding, and it lets you know you did something right,” said Nelson.