Jesse Nelson Born: April 8, 1952 (Emporia, Kansas)
Graduated: Emporia High School, 1970 / Emporia State University, 1974.
Jesse Nelson grew up in a neighborhood where sports were constantly played. He discovered his basketball skills on gravel courts playing pickup hoops, leading him to play in high school.
Nelson’s basketball career took off during his four years at Emporia High School. He holds the school’s
single-season rebound record with 330 his senior year. He was then recruited by Emporia State University, where he played for Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee Ron Slaymaker.
As a four-year letterman, Nelson tallied 640 points on 48 percent shooting from the field over 98 career games. He earned ESU’s Defensive Player of the Year award all four seasons before graduating in 1974.
After graduation, Nelson took a special education position in Kingman but returned to ESU the following year to join Slaymaker as a graduate assistant coach. Between coaching alongside Slaymaker and studying physical education in college, Nelson discovered his desire to coach.
It wasn’t until a bit later, when Nelson was working an insurance job, that he received an offer from Olpe High School. He took the girls basketball head coaching job at Olpe in 1978, not knowing it would lead to a historic 44-year career.
Nelson’s 951-111 career record makes him the winningest high school coach in Kansas state basketball
history. He led the Eagles to the state tournament 30 times and won four state championship titles in 1981, 2010, 2011 and 2021. The back-to-back championship victories in 2010 and 2011 were part of a 77-game winning streak.
Nelson was inducted into the Emporia State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2003. In 2014, he was named the USA
Today America’ s Girls’ Basketball Coach National Champion. He was named head coach of the West team in the 2016 McDonald’s All-American girls’ game. Nelson was also named the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) girls’ basketball Coach of the Year in 2021.
But winning wasn’t the most rewarding thing about coaching for Nelson. It was watching young players excel at the game. He coached in a way that encouraged players to play with each other as a unit, trying not to let their teammates and coaches down. He loved helping athletes develop confidence in themselves and their skills in a positive environment. Nelson retired from coaching in 2021. However, the decision to step away was not an easy one.
Nelson is married and has three children, who all attended schools in Emporia. He credits his wife with holding his family together all those years while he was on the sidelines. Now, Nelson works as a transport officer for the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office in Emporia. He spends his days working there, doing home projects and spending time with family. Please welcome Jesse Nelson to the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Biography by: Caroline Soro
Photos Courtesy of Emporia State Athletics and Olpe High School Athletics.