BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Mark Nell is not a guy who is easily overwhelmed, but within days of announcing his plan to retire from coaching, the leader of Generals baseball had received 2,000 to 3,000 phone calls, texts, tweets and messages through social media that he’s not even sure how to use.
“I’m the kind of person that wants to respond to everyone personally, but I can’t,” he said. “I want to thank all the people who have reached out to me.”
While Nell will remain as a physical education teacher at Anthony Wayne Junior High School this year, he announced last weekend that he plans to step down from coaching.
“I just have to figure out some things with my health,” he said, adding that he plans to remain involved in baseball in some way. “I don’t have a plan yet. All I know is I’ve been around the game my entire life. I don’t foresee it being over. My dad coached forever, too.”
Nell’s involvement in baseball was almost preordained. His dad, Howell Eugene Nell, was a member of the Knights of Pythias, a Christian organization, and organized teams in the Springdale area of Cincinnati. Later, his dad coached Knothole baseball, a community-based program with several teams.
“He purchased a bulldozer and went around to whatever land was donated and built baseball fields,” Nell recalled. “We played on those fields a lot. My dad never made a dime coaching baseball, but he built a baseball community.”
Before he was even in kindergarten, Nell was pitching against 7- and 8-year-old players as a member of the Springdale Quality Cleaners team.
“I went through the whole season without a hit – but I pitched well,” he said.
As he entered Cincin-nati’s Princeton High School, Nell was driven to become a professional baseball player. After playing outfield for the University of Cincinnati, Nell played semi-pro baseball for two years while working as an assistant coach for Princeton.
When he was hired to coach baseball and football in Waynesville, Ohio – a town named for Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne – Nell became more focused on teaching and coaching. He spent summers coaching at college baseball camps, including Indiana State, University of Michigan and Mississippi State, developing contacts and gaining knowledge from other coaches.
During his fourth year at Waynesville, Nell was one of 100 applicants for an assistant’s position with Denny Schmitz’s Bowling Green State University baseball program.
“Somehow, they choose me,” Nell said, and in the fall of 1990, he rented a room in a house for $10.00 or $20.00 a week while his wife, Tawn, finished her degree in Columbus.
The Nells stayed in BG for nine years, and it was during that time that 27-year-old Jordan was born.
“I didn’t see Jordan much that first five years and I feel like I missed a lot. I was on the road recruiting and even when I was home, I was getting phone calls. I didn’t want to leave anyone out. I turned over every stone to build a national program, and we did. We put a whole bunch of guys into professional baseball,” he said.
While he had opportunities to take college head coaching positions elsewhere, it was a need to spend time with his family that drove Nell to take a job teaching at Wynn Elementary in Oregon and coaching baseball for Eastwood High School. He hoped to find a full-time job at Eastwood, but with no such opening, he applied for the position of P.E. teacher and baseball coach for Anthony Wayne Local Schools in 2000.
Cal Whewell, whose four children graduated from Anthony Wayne, remembers when Nell arrived. Cal’s son, Nate, a 2000 graduate, had spent his high school baseball career being coached by three different coaches, including Mike Campbell and the late Corey Miller, who both had signed on to BGSU baseball with Nell.
“They were great young men and did a great job,” Cal recalled. “It wasn’t a bad program, but it wasn’t the powerhouse program it is today.”
He remembers Nate saying that when faced with playing against Start High School, the attitude among the players was, “Oh my God, we have to play Start?” After a few years, that changed to Start players worrying at having to face Anthony Wayne, Cal said.
As a seventh-grader, Andy Whewell was recruited by Nell to get involved with the program, going to baseball workouts and helping as a team manager. Even Andy’s sister Corinne got involved, keeping the books for the varsity team for four years.
“Coach Nell built a baseball program that starts as a culture early in the school process. By fifth or sixth grade, kids are wanting to play for him,” Cal said. “The dedication he brought for 20 years to the young men was just phenomenal. It’s so great to see someone willing to donate that much of their personal time to the program.”
By the time Andy graduated in 2006, the team was the first in years to win an NLL championship – the first of six in Nell’s 21-year career. His career record of 443-163 at AW includes six district, one regional and one Ohio High School Athletic Association state runner-up championship.
“In 2018, when we got to the state championship – how can that not be among the top moments?” Nell said. “But the best moments I have as a coach are after the kids leave and I talk to them and see how they’re developing as adults – as parents, people and husbands. That, to me, is what I like to see. Those are the victories.”
While winning isn’t always possible, Nell stresses a competitive spirit and how to persevere after a loss.
“The world is competitive. When you’re going for a job and need to feed your family, whether you win or lose, the interview is important,” he said. “I try to instill that competitive nature into them – but also how to stand back up after being defeated. You have to figure out what’s the next step, and that’s where I am right now.”
For now, Nell’s priority is spending time with Tawn, Jordan – who is a teacher at Eastwood – and Maddi, a 19-year-old about to graduate from Purdue University-Fort Wayne. This weekend, Nell will travel to Indiana to watch her open the volleyball season against Ball State.
“It’s a priority for me to be healthy and be around for my family as long as I can,” Nell said.
As he’s received messages from coaches, players and community members, Nell said he’s astounded at how many lives he’s impacted.
“It’s been pretty humbling. I hope I have affected them in a positive way,” he said.
As for his next step, Nell is keeping his options open but recently tweeted, “I will be back on the field soon!”
Anthony Wayne athletic director John Snyder said he plans to post the position by the end of the month and interview by mid-September in order to have a coach in place by October.