Nelson gets inducted in Hall of Fame
Avery Martin – Contributor
One of three people inducted into the Connecticut Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2022, Jerry Nelson says “It is heartwarming. It’s not why I did my job but it’s nice to know the things I did in my career got recognized.”
Nelson’s passion for collegiate gymnastics began in 1973 when he first competed for the Owls. He was part of the National Championship-winning teams of 1973 and 1975. After a successful career in coaching, Nelson returned to the university in 2003.
“It was a good move right at the right moment. It turned out to be the job of my life. I had the opportunity to be a coach and be part of the lives of the students who came to Southern,” said Nelson. From 2003 to his retirement in 2019, Nelson led the women’s gymnastics team to 3 Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Team Championships and has helped 86 gymnasts become All-American athletes.
However, for Nelson, gymnastics was never just about the accolades. “My main goal isn’t always about winning medals, it was about teamwork and building a team. I wanted to keep my athletes safe and participating in the gym and in the classroom,” said Nelson. He says that he has promised all his gymnasts
, “the opportunity for them to do well; for them to be part of the team.”
Isabella Antonangeli competed for the university from 2017 to 2020. For most of that time, Nelson, who she describes as “heartwarming,” was the head coach. Antonangeli, who returned to become an assistant coach for women’s gymnastics in the 2020-21 season, says that Nelson “came out of retirement for us because he loved us so much. He said he would do anything for us and that alone shows how great of a man he is. He makes you feel like you’re loved.”
When she became assistant coach, Antonangeli says that Nelson gave her advice. “He said to have fun with it; stand up for your girls and speak up if you need to. But he really just told me to have fun with it because that’s what he always tried to do,” Nelson said.
Nelson is beloved by staff and students alike. Associate Director of Athletic Communication Ken Sweeten says, “Jerry is great to work with. He really cares about his athletes.” For student gymnasts, Jerry Nelson’s positive personality makes him stand out. Nursing Major Hannah Stahlbrodt, a graduate student, says, “He’s just a happy-spirited, warm, nice guy. His coaching is just the same. He always made me feel like I was getting better and never put me down.”
Both Stahlbrodt and Antonangeli say that Nelson is fond of dad jokes and enjoys checking in on alumni after they graduate. Antonangeli said, “Some alumni and I had a cookout with him back in August at his cottage. He was really glad we did that and got it put together.”
Another word that is frequently used to describe Nelson is “generous.” After the tragic passing of student gymnast Melanie Coleman in 2019, Nelson renamed the scholarship made in his name to the “Melanie Coleman Scholarship”.
“I recruited Melanie’s sister, Tiffany, and I coached Melanie for two years and knew her for more than six. I spoke at the memorial and we had a chance to create something special in her honor. We changed the scholarship name to Melanie Coleman Scholarship after getting permission from her mom,” Nelson said.
Nelson plans to follow the Owls’ 2023 season and is excited to see how each gymnast contributes to the team under the current head coach, Byron Knox. “I am so looking forward to that. Byron is a great coach and a good man and I think he will do justice by the job,” Nelson said.
Looking back at his career at the university, Nelson says “We have done well and competed well against D1 schools and I promised them that I would take care of them and help them succeed. I am attached to this university. I love it here.”