EAST BRAINERD, Tenn. (WRCB) -- Norma Nelson's summer could not have started on a worse note, but the long-time local softball coach's vacation is already turning around.
Nelson was officially hired Monday as the new head coach at East Hamilton, six weeks after she was surprisingly fired at Ooltewah.
"It was a really hard month," Nelson said via cell phone Monday afternoon. "Everyone kept telling me something good will come along and everything happens for a reason.
"It looks like they were right."
Nelson was the winningest coach in any sport in Ooltewah history with more than 600 victories in a two-decade tenure as the Owls' head coach.
Nelson was an assistant on two state championship teams under Jim Lovell before taking over the program in 1994. She led the Owls to state runner-up finishes in two of her first three years, then won her first state title as head coach in 2008.
The Owls finished 22-15 last year and Nelson was given the choice to resign or be fired. She told principal Mark Bean she "refused to quit on her team," and was subsequently dismissed.
"I love this game so much and there was no way I was going to be away from it," said Nelson, who also serves as an assistant coach at Gordon Lee in the fall. "There were two or three places I contacted a few days after leaving Ooltewah, and East Hamilton was one of them. I knew it was open and I was very interested.
"I love coaching. I love the game, and I'm thrilled to be able to keep doing it."
Nelson replaces Cara Stiles, who stepped down after three years at East Hamilton to complete a year-long mission trip.
The Lady Canes advanced to the Spring Fling the past two seasons, winning their first two state tournament games this past spring. The roster only graduates two seniors, though pitcher Maria Walshe and lead-off hitter and Tennessee signee Shaliyah Geathers were prominent players in the team's success.
"We still have some really good players on this team," Nelson said. "The game is about hitting the ball, playing defense and hitting. We obviously graduated a great pitcher, but I've talked to some parents already and we'll have some options.
"They want to stay at a high level, and I want to keep coaching at a high level as well. We'll just get started finding a comfort zone with each other, and I think it will be a great fit."
Nelson only faced East Hamilton once as Ooltewah's head coach in a three-inning rainout, but the two programs will square off frequently in the future now that the Lady Canes are joining the Owls in District 5-AAA.
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