While high school was in the heart of its summer break last July, the Mill Creek golfers expected their routine to be the same in August.
Go to class, eat lunch and go home. Somewhere in between, they always found time daily for visits the counseling office for a chat with one of their golf coaches, Bob Nelson.
But during the time off last summer, Nelson passed away suddenly from a heart attack. The Suwanee resident, and longtime Gwinnett County Public Schools counselor, was just 57. He touched countless kids' lives at both North Gwinnett, where he previously coached golf, and at Mill Creek.
His loss was freshest at the latter school, where a group of golfers was left shattered.
"Coach Nelson had a calming effect on people," Mill Creek senior golfer Dylan Pence said. "Even if you had a bad day on the course, you couldn't be mad about it around him because he just made you feel better about yourself. He was a great coach who led his team to many accolades, but he was more than just a coach to his kids. He was a good friend, one that I dearly miss."
Not surprisingly, the youngsters and their parents wanted to honor their former coach. They wore shirts with "Nelson" on the sleeve, a constant reminder of who they play for, but even that didn't seem enough.
The Mill Creek golf booster club, with board members Gretchen Plummer, Stacy Glaser and Gary Pence leading the way, spearheaded another idea, the Coach Bob Nelson Scholarship for a graduating Mill Creek senior.
"Coach Nelson was a very happy man who could always make the team laugh," Mill Creek senior golfer Garnett Glaser said. "He helped me remain calm and not get too angry over a bad shot or hole. He was there for us no matter what. The scholarship is important to the returning players because it would have been Coach Nelson's wish to continue to help all of the golfers in their future endeavors. He will always remain a part of the Mill Creek golf team."
To fund the scholarship, Mill Creek's golfers are hosting an event Friday afternoon at Hamilton Mill Golf Club.
At two of the club's par-3 holes, golfers can purchase a raffle ticket for prize giveaways donated by local businesses. The golfer then hits a tee shot and tries to get closer to the pin than a shot hit by a Mill Creek player. If that is successful, the golfer gets an extra raffle ticket for free.
The funds will go directly to the Nelson scholarship, which will assist the kids who thought so highly of Nelson. Several of them spoke at their former coach's memorial service, recalling a fun-loving coach who was as quick with a joke as he was golfing advice.
"Coach Nelson was a really good man," Mill Creek senior golfer Katie Plummer said. "He was very likable, nobody on the team disliked him. He was a strong coach who, with his help, we went to the state championships back to back years for the first time in school history."
The success of Nelson's golfers on the course won't be the coach's main lasting legacy, though. It was his friendship that the Hawk golfers enjoyed the most.
It's why they plan to put so much energy into a deserving scholarship this week.
"I think (Nelson) would have loved (the scholarship) because he loved the kids so much," said Mill Creek golf coach Ben Hanes, who coached with Nelson for four years. "I miss him, too. I'm an always Xs and Os, black and white, math guy. He was Mr. warm and fuzzy. He was always talking to them about their feelings, why this happened or why that happened. He just had such a warm personality."
Will Hammock can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.
What: Mill Creek golf team fundraiser
When: Friday, 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.
Where: Hamilton Mill Golf Club
Details: Golfers at two of the club's par-3 holes will have the opportunity to buy a raffle ticket and get closer to the pin than one of the Mill Creek players. If they win, they get an extra raffle ticket for donated prizes from area businesses. All proceeds will go to a scholarship fund that honors late Mill Creek golf coach Bob Nelson, who died last summer.