Laura Nickerson’s career path as a teacher and coach in Lamar County has a unique history. As the seasoned girls’ coordinator and head volleyball coach at Chisum High School enters her fourth season with the Lady Mustangs, coaching at Chisum is not unfamiliar territory.
“My first job was at Detroit and I was the only girls’ coach for junior high and high school,” Nickerson said. “I taught and coached at Detroit, then I was at Chisum back in the early ’90s for about nine years. I was the coach that took our team to the regional tournament final. I coached with Margaret Skidmore when Tommy Chalaire was still coaching. I was here for nine years before I taught and coached at North Lamar.”
Nickerson had a successful first go around with the Lady Mustangs, to say the least. Nickerson has helped guide the Lady Mustangs volleyball team to a playoff appearance in each of her first three seasons at the helm. With that, her goal is to continue building the program and work with the athletes to elevate the program.
“It’s all about the kids here. They want to work and they will run through walls for you,” Nickerson said. “I can see the changes in just three years. Our girls get out there and get after it. They want to work hard, they want to be good, and they don’t complain aside from an occasional eye-roll or deep sigh, but you can see these traits from how they work in practice and in the weight room.”
From an early age, sports and competition have been prominent parts of Nickerson’s life. In her youth, Nickerson had plenty of teammates and opponents to compete with all without having to leave home.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but I come from a very large family. I have eight brothers and two sisters,” Nickerson said. “The way we spent our time together growing up and being competitive and playing against each other in sports whether it was football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, softball — we were always going at it growing up. I played sports all the way through high school.”
Nickerson knew she wanted to play sports from the beginning, which she did until she graduated from Dodd City High School. During this time in her life, Nickerson drew guidance and wisdom from a late hero of hers. This woman was the driving force in Nickerson’s decision to officially pursue a job teaching and coaching high school student-athletes.
“I always wanted to be a teacher growing up,” Nickerson said. “I have to say Celia Weeks, she used to coach and teach at Dodd City until she passed away, she really was a role model for me growing up. She pushed me to finish high school and to get a college degree. After high school, sometimes kids will get a job out of high school, but she stayed on me about getting a college degree.”
A few years later, Nickerson honored her late teacher’s desire to graduate college, when she walked the stage as an alum of Texas A&M-Commerce. As she continued to advance in her coaching career, Nickerson and her husband raised their two children Bailee and Trent together. Over the years, both kids excelled in their respective sports and did so not just from their talent, but also from hours of diligent training, relentless effort, and focused practice regiments.
“I know when my kids were younger and in sports, I’m sure some parents thought we were over the top,” Nickerson said. “My husband Jim and I both have always told our kids to give 100 percent in whatever they do. We push them to not be lazy kids, and seeing their success — kids want to be pushed. They want someone to believe in them. Kids want someone to push them and expect them to be right.”
Nickerson values instilling core values in her children to help them succeed, and she does the same with the girls she coaches. However, like any coach, Nickerson can get frustrated, and it shows — in her eyes.
“My husband said he can tell when I’m in a bad mood because my eyes turn a dark gray color,” Nickerson said. “Then if I get in a good, happy mood, my eyes turn bright blue. Even some of my Chisum kids will point that out, they say, ‘Oh your eyes sure are blue today, are you in a good mood?’”
Even the best kind of people can be brought down a notch, and for Nickerson, this concept came to her in a literal sense as a high school student.
“When I was in high school, I would always have a problem with running into signs while I was talking,” Nickerson said. “I remember one time I got off the bus and was talking to my girlfriends and, not paying attention, I ran into a sign. There was a big bruise all the way down my face.”
Whenever stressful times approach, it is healthy to get away and disconnect. For Nickerson, she can relax, find inner peace, and spend quality time without leaving her home or dealing with any outside disturbances.
“We live on 90 acres out in the country, and we are just surrounded by fields and hay pasture,” Nickerson said. “We have a pool in our backyard and there is always a breeze out there, so I’ll just sit out in the backyard and meditate and relax without thinking about much — it’s good to decompress. My husband has a jeep and sometimes we will just go ride the back roads and listen to country music on the radio.”
Before the widespread impact from COVID-19, Nickerson enjoyed spending time supporting her daughter Bailee at her collegiate softball games as a member of the Wichita State Shockers. In times past, Nickerson admitted she could be heard from great distances while attending games her children competed in. However, when she heard the coaches encourage loud forms of praise and criticism from parents in the stands, Nickerson did not feel the urge to partake.
“Recently, we were at one of Bailee’s softball games at OSU. They were dead — they didn’t have a lot of energy or emotion,” Nickerson said. “We come to watch and enjoy the game, and then one of her coaches started saying, ‘I need all of you parents in the stands to start yelling and screaming at these kids and yell at the officials!’ I was already passed that point in my life and I would rather go to a game just to enjoy it. The players don’t intentionally try to mess things up, and I’m not going to be that belligerent mom in the stands anymore.”
Then, she came to a realization that has helped her gain composure in many areas of her life.
“As a coach and a spectator, I feel like I’ve come full circle,” Nickerson said. “I was that crazy parent screaming in the stands or jumping up and yelling at an official. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve been that fan before. I’ve been that parent in the stands too that would yell at her kids on the court, and my son Trent tells me that he can still hear my voice. I’ve been the coach that was crazy about an incidental 10-second runoff. Now, I’m a lot calmer.”
The Lady Mustangs will open up with a tentative exhibition play-day on Thursday, where Chisum is expected to scrimmage the likes of Prairiland, Paris, and North Lamar. No official time or event schedule has been announced.