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A long-time official, Mayor Rick Nelson, hangs up his whistle

November 8, 2016

By Jim Schiltz, Daily Gazette newspaper

In his three decades as a sports official Rick Nelson dealt with his share of sideline hecklers and coaches who were determined to make their point.

“I had a dream to throw my whistle in the stands, tell them, ‘You try it,’ and walk away,” Stillwater’s village mayor said with a laugh. “I never got the chance. I had it all planned out. God had another idea.”

Nelson’s long officiating career ended last November due to a work-related injury, and he recently stepped away as the Mohawk Field Hockey Umpires Association game assignor, a task he performed for nearly as long as he had been running up and down with the athletes.

“It doesn’t feel like he’s retired,” Nelson’s wife, Catherine, said. “He’ll always find something to be involved in. He’ll always look to make a difference and make something better.”

The 61-year-old Nelson made sporting events better with his keen knowledge and adherence of the rules, his focus on athlete safety, and congenial approach with them, their coaches and fellow officials.

“It was never about him individually,” Catherine Nelson said. “It was about the betterment of the sport.”

Throughout his officiating tenure Nelson oversaw high school softball and football games, and high school and college field hockey, volleyball, basketball and lacrosse contests.

“You think of all the games, the rules and the people you met,” Nelson said. “It was a great situation. It’s what I wanted to be.”

Nelson often worked varsity and junior varsity field hockey games back-to-back due to a lack of officials in the sport, and for years has actively recruited officials for the sport.

“He’s always trying to get officials,” Emma Willard field hockey and lacrosse coach Liz Parry said. “He’s always willing to help out and promote the sport. Anything he can do, he’ll do.”

Nelson started his officiating career on a diamond and finished up on a court.

“The first game I worked was a softball game up at Hudson Falls. It was so cold we couldn’t fill out the voucher form at the end of the game,” Nelson said. “Last November, I worked a basketball scrimmage with UAlbany and Saint Rose. That was the last time I blew a whistle.”

Nelson’s officiating days ended soon after that scrimmage when he slipped off a ladder while cleaning gutters and sustained hip and upper femur injuries. The former three-sport participant at Stillwater High School said he will continue to be involved in athletics.

“He’s a veteran official,” Parry said. “He has so much knowledge to pass on to others.”

Nelson said he will continue to do that as a speaker at clinics and classes. He will also continue to rate officials and help coordinatie various events while continuing his duties as Stillwater’s mayor (he was elected in March 2015; his son Patrick was his campaign manager) and operating his home repair and remodeling business.

“His big thing now is what he and the [village] board can do to make things better for the residents,” Catherine Nelson said.

Rick Nelson said he’ll miss the games and the athletes as well as the coaches and fans, even the loud ones.

“I’d smile, and listen,” he said. “If it had value, I would try to do something about it.”