National Coach of the Year  

Retiring Dobson High School coach Nancy Ellis shows off her national softball Coach of the Year award from the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.

What a way to say goodbye
Ellis receives national award in final season

By Weldon B. Johnson
The Arizona Republic
July 26, 2002

The way Nancy Ellis sees it, she was eight years away from another state championship, if the pattern held, so she might as well give the program to someone else.

That's part of the reason Ellis stepped down as Dobson High's softball coach. She got a heck of a consolation prize though for not wanting to wait for another title, as she was chosen the National High School Athletic Coaches Association national softball Coach of the Year.

"I won my first state championship in 1970 (in California) and the next one in 1990," said Ellis, joking. "I said if it's only going to happen every 20 years, I'm going to give it to somebody else. I'm not waiting around until 2010."

Ellis retired last month after 22 seasons as Dobson's coach. She has been coaching for 33 years total. She said the best thing about the Coach of the Year honor was the fact that she was selected before she announced her retirement so there was no sympathy factor. She has been the association's Region 8 (representing Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah) Coach of the Year four times, including this year.

"It's just a perfect finish to a great career," Ellis said. "You can't get any higher than that."

Ellis graduated from Arizona State University in 1968. She started off as a business major but switched to education after one year because she decided she wanted a career in sports.

"I was always an athlete," Ellis said. "I have an identical twin. My mom taught her to cook. My dad taught me sports."

She began her teaching and coaching career in California, but a 1971 earthquake convinced her it was time to return home to Mesa. She began teaching and coaching at Mesa High and moved to Dobson when that school opened in 1981.

Over the years, her Mustangs softball teams have put together a 340-230 record. Her softball coaching record is 570-334 overall, and her teams have won 10 regional titles in addition to the two state championships.

She said some of her fondest memories have come from the teams that haven't won much, however.

"Everybody's not going to be a state champion," Ellis said. "Those are the teams that you jump up and down and celebrate the most with while you're achieving a goal, but there's so much more to sports than winning it all."

She speaks fondly of trips she has taken with her team (visiting the historic territorial prison when Yuma was in the region stands out among the most memorable). She also talks about former players who come back to visit.

"Working with 16- and 17-year-olds every year, you don't feel like you change," Ellis said. "But I go to some reunion and see some 40-year-old woman I used to coach, and I think she's changed. I say, 'My God, you've gotten old.' I feel the same as I always did."

Over the years, the kids and parents have changed and that, in addition to wanting more time to spend with her parents, are some of the reasons Ellis decided to give up softball.

"The kids are changing," Ellis said. "And I'm not willing to fight with parents anymore. Title IX has been a good thing. It's resulted in more college scholarships for girls. But that has resulted in insane parents, and they're arguing about playing time and calls at the games. At least I hope that (the chance for scholarships) is the reason. I'd like to think they've become insane for a good reason.

"On top of that, softball is very time consuming. I spend four hours a day at it, and not all of those were on the field. I can get a sub for teaching or the other things I do, but you can't get a sub for softball."

Ellis was not only the school's softball coach. She is also the physical education department head and will continue to be. She'll still coach the badminton team and will still coordinate the school's Web site and serve as a computer tech.

With all of those other jobs, you would think she would be too busy to miss softball, but she said she's sure she will.

"The first year will be tough, but it's not like switching schools," Ellis said. "If you're still around, you're still able to chit-chat with the kids about life and stuff. It will be easier for me in that I'm still here."

Ariz..Rep....Tribune.....NHSACA.. ...Retirement .....MPS Athletics.....Title IX Art. .....Az. Rep. .....MPS

Softball Magazine ......MPS Ath Site .... AIA ..... Az. Rep..... Tribune's Sports Page....MPS Graphic

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The Last update: 6.28.2002