Two of the most successful softball coaches in southeastern Minnesota have turned to familiar faces for help the last few years.
Zumbrota-Mazeppa 32nd-year coach Kevin Nelson and Stewartville 11th-year coach Curt Hughes are getting assistance from their daughters, Megan Nelson and Caitlyn Hughes, respectively.
Megan is in her fourth year working with Kevin, these last two as his co-head coach. This is Caitlyn’s first season as Curt’s assistant.
Both young women are former softball stars who played for their father’s high school teams while growing up. Each followed that by playing and starring at the same college, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
The graduates have now brought all of that knowledge gleaned and they've delivered it back to the high school programs they grew up in. They're doing it next to men who are cherishing every minute of this new father/daughter connection.
Kevin and Megan Nelson, Zumbrota-Mazeppa
There is a decent chance that Kevin Nelson wouldn’t be in his 32nd year of coaching Zumbrota-Mazeppa softball were it not for his daughter, 27-year-old Megan Nelson.
Megan joined his coaching staff three years ago and for the last two seasons they’ve been Z-M softball’s co-head coaches.
As much as Kevin still enjoys the game and has never lost his zest for directing high school kids, Megan’s being next to him on a daily basis is the biggest key.
At 59 years old, she’s kept him going. Not only has she lightened his coaching workload, taking over a bunch of the duties including “morning pitching” during the season, but they have a connection that’s special.
It’s one that spreads off the softball diamond, too, with them fishing and hunting partners.
But softball has always been their biggest connection. That dates back to when Megan was in eighth grade and already playing for Kevin on the Z-M varsity.
“It is special in the fact that there are a lot people who coach their own kids coming up through school, but then never get a chance to work with them as adults,” said Kevin, a Hall of Fame coach who is 547-189 in his years at Z-M. “To be able to share these times together now, I really appreciate it. Plus, she’s really developed a great working relationship with the (players), and the kids really believe in what we’re doing.”
Kevin never would have guessed things would work out this way. That had everything to do with Megan making the choice to come back and live in her hometown of Mazeppa. Not only did Kevin not see that coming, but Megan also surprised him by picking the same profession as him. Until retiring two years ago, Kevin was an industrial technology teacher at Zumbrota-Mazeppa School.
For the last four years there has been another Nelson teaching in the Z-M school system. That is Megan, who works as a preschool teacher.
“Megan’s truest interest has always been working with younger kids,” Kevin said. “But I don’t think she saw herself as a teacher until she went away from home (graduating from Wisconsin-La Crosse, where she starred in softball). And I don’t think she saw herself coming back to Zumbrota.”
But she did both and is loving it.
“I do enjoy being back,” Megan said. “I never thought I’d be back home and teaching. But it’s been a blessing.”
So, too, has spending late afternoons on the softball diamond with her father.
They are on the same page almost always, both with a hot desire to compete and in the way they handle players. It’s with an intensity but also with plenty of laughs.
“My dad and I get along really well,” Megan said. “We have a similar approach in that we can be serious and have high expectations, but also have fun.”
Curt and Caitlyn Hughes, Stewartville
There are times when Caitlyn Hughes admits to turning into a “mom.” A 24-year-old mother of a bunch of teenage girls.
It’s her dad’s sometimes direct style that does it to her.
The two are coaching the Stewartville softball team together this season. It’s the 50-year-old Curt’s 11th year (112-70 record) and Caitlyn’s first.
“My dad is super nice to the girls and all, but he can crack down on some things,” said Caitlyn, a 2015 Stewartville graduate who played for her father for five seasons before spending the next four years at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where she was a standout pitcher. “My dad is more the discipline coach, where I am more the ‘mom,’ coach. I feel for the girls.”
Whatever, it’s a winning mix. At least it sure is for them.
Curt figured this would provide him the happiest stint of his coaching life, if Caitlyn were to say yes to his request to join him this spring. They’d had some history coaching together, with Caitlyn having assisted Curt with some summer softball coaching the last two years.
Softball had been such a big part of their relationship for so long, the thing that bound them most. To get that back again was huge.
“My dad was always my catcher growing up,” Caitlyn said. “But I always thought that it would be cool to coach with him.”
Now, with Caitlyn’s college softball career in the rear-view mirror, they’ve picked up where they’d left off.
The only difference now is their roles. Caitlyn’s physical abilities aren’t what’s being concentrated on anymore. Instead, the focus is entirely on teaching the game and interacting with the players.
They see softball much the same way. But they also have their differences, as well as strengths and weaknesses in what they can teach.
Caitlyn concentrates mostly on the pitchers, while Curt’s strength is with hitters.
“Come game time, things feel a little bit different with us than they used to,” Curt said. “When she was a pitcher, she was in control most of the time. Now, as coach, she is on the other side of that. But she knows what she has to do and what I expect out of her.”
Curt also appreciates something else about this new connection with his daughter. His nerves aren’t so seriously tested with this arrangement.
“Coaching with her, my nerves are much different,” Curt said. “A father watching her daughter in the pitching circle can get pretty nerve-wracking. But now I am watching her grow into this new role of coaching.”