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Longtime Madison Park and South Boston track coaches hang up their stopwatches

Posted by Justin Rice  February 4, 2013 08:04 PM

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Longtime Madison Park track coach Richard Nichols (left) and longtime South Boston track coach, Jim de Mello, sit next to each other at the Boston City indoor track championships on Monday afternoon at the Reggie Lewis Center. Both coaches will retire from coaching this year. (Justin A. Rice / For the Boston Globe)

It’s not uncommon to see Jim de Mello and Richard Nichols hanging out together at different track meets across the state.

But the two longtime track coaches at South Boston and Madison Park, respectively, will sit in the Reggie Lewis Center bleachers together as coaches in the Boston City indoor track championships for the final time Tuesday afternoon.

The physical education and health teachers who started working in the school district in the same year (1978) are now leaving the district’s coaching ranks in the same year as well.

“It is nice,” de Mello said while sitting next to Nichols in the top row of the bleachers during the first day of the City championships Monday afternoon. “Richard and I have had a lot of fun competing over the years. I always look forward to it and we always sat next to each other at all the track meets that we ever went to.

“So it was always fun with that nice competition, knowing that Richard and I get along as friends. Knowing that we actually came into the system the same year, 1978, and we’re going out basically the same year, is nice. Richard is going out a little early because he’s a little older than I am, God bless him, but I enjoy the competition.”

While de Mello, 57, will coach one final outdoor season after 25 years of coaching track at South Boston, Nichols, 58, is calling it quit after this indoor season. Nichols, who started coaching at Madison Park in 1995 and was named the state’s coach of the year in 1999, actually retired from coaching for the the first time after the 2004 season. But he returned in 2009 because the school needed a track coach.

“I figured I’d give a hand and come back for a couple of years and help the team do something,” he said.

Between indoor and outdoor track, de Mello has won 25 conference championships, including this winter. He has won three outdoor city championships (1991, 1992, and 1996) and also won a city cross-country championship in 1991.

Nichols said he’s won six or seven conference titles, three indoor city championships and one outdoor.

“Jimmy and Rich, they work so hard with their kids and they’ve had some wonderful, wonderful competitors,” Boston City League track commissioner Mary Grant said. “I will miss them. I will definitely, definitely miss them because they know so much. They are out there for their kids.”

Latin Academy coach Brian Leussler — whose team has won the boys’ and girls’ indoor city track titles the last two years and led the standings for both genders after the first day of competition Monday — said both coaches have been a huge help to him since he started coaching 11 years ago.

“I think they are great, I think they are both really knowledgeable when it comes to their events,” Leussler said. “[Nichols] has had some of the state’s best high jumpers and hurdlers so I’ve learned a lot just watching the drills that he does with his kids. [De Mello], he’s helped a lot of the coaches over the years and there is definitely a lot of turnover.”

Working with other coaches and their athletes is exactly what both Nichols and de Mello said they will miss the most.

“It’s nice seeing everyone here,” Nichols said. “It’s nice working with all these track coaches. One thing we do is we work together. It’s unlike other sports where you feel a rivalry. If Jimmy does something better he’ll work with my kids, somebody will do high jump and they’ll work with other kids. That’s what I’ll miss. A lot of camaraderie. I do like working with kids.”

While they have both had their share of star athletes, de Mello said he also will remember the more pedestrian athletes who stuck with him and managed to do well at city competitions.

“The athletes we’ve had that have lasted three or four years, those are the ones that are memorable to us regardless of their abilities,” he said. “I have athletes that get to the point where they scored in the City's. That’s an amazing accomplishment for just an average person to do. You look around and say how many average people have scored one through six in a city championship of any kind. To get an athlete to do that it’s a great accomplishment and I see some of our average kids doing that because they stuck with it.”

Both coaches said it’s hard to get athletes to commit to a track program for four years these days but they said city track is being left in good hands, pointing to rising programs at Snowden and Dorchester.

“We’re not leaving and everything is dying out,” de Mello said. “I think it’s going to keep moving.”

And with track in his rearview mirror, Nichols said he will teach violin lessons twice a week instead of the one per week he gives now. He also said he will take on more side jobs remodeling homes.

“Maybe we can get together because I do building also,” de Mello told his friend. “I’ll be doing that a little more and I’ll also be one of those guys out there in the green uniforms officiating.

"So I’ll be back officiating the Boston public school kids.”

Justin A. Rice covers Boston Public school athletics. He can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.

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Several reporters, editors and correspondents contribute updates, news and features to the BPS Sports Blog:
  • Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
  • Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at butler.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.
Also expect updates from Boston.com High School sports editor Zuri Berry and the Globe staff.