Nic Nelson is the 2016 recipient of the “All That’s Right in Sport” Award, presented annually by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), a longtime supporter of the Musial Awards.
Players and coaches often refer to each other as family, so much so that the metaphor can lose its impact. But in extending their basketball family to help a young man heal after a tragic loss, Nic Nelson and the Briar Cliff University Chargers made the metaphor poignant again.
Nic met Trevor Welp and his family when Trevor’s sister and Nic’s daughter became classmates and friends. So, when Trevor’s father, Steven, died in 2011, Nic sensed the hole that was left in Trevor’s life. Steven had coached Trevor’s basketball team, and the pair shared a love of the sport. As coach of the Briar Cliff University men’s basketball team, Nic was in a position to fill Trevor’s void.
“We invited him to be part of our team,” Nic says.
Part manager, part teammate, Trevor came to practices and games. He offered drinks or towels to players on the bench. He sat in on team meetings and strategy sessions. He balanced those duties with playing basketball for his grade school basketball team. As a show of support, Nic and the Chargers surprised Trevor by attending one of his games.
“The look on Trevor’s face when the Briar Cliff Chargers came into the gym was priceless,” Trevor’s mom, Cindy, told the Sioux City Journal. “There wasn’t enough room for all of them. Some of them stood. Some sat on the bench with Trevor’s team.”
Surprised? Yes. Nervous? Hardly. Trevor responded by hitting the first shot of the game.
Like any team member, Trevor celebrated at the annual team banquet. After the season, Nic invited Trevor to Briar Cliff’s summer basketball camp. The bond grew so strong that continuing the relationship beyond that first year seemed logical.
Since then, Trevor has returned to the team every year and has become more involved. He’s made a few road trips. Last year, when Briar Cliff won its conference tournament, Trevor helped cut down the nets and accompanied the Chargers to Branson, Mo., for the NAIA national tournament.
“I’m not sure we intended it to be more than a one-year thing,” Nic says, “but he’s been part of the program longer than our current players.”
Now a freshman, Trevor continues both in his role with Briar Cliff and as a player on his high school team. Nic even hopes that Trevor will serve as a camp counselor this coming summer.
“It’s been personally fulfilling to stay involved in his life, watching him grow and mature. For someone with only daughters, it’s been neat,” Nic says. “For our guys, they know how this all started and they treat him like one of them. They love doing that. It’s been good for them because they know it’s important to Trevor.”
And Trevor might be even more important to the Briar Cliff family.