By Raenelle Kwock
Larry Nice, a prominent figure in the La Grande High School coaching ranks, hangs up his stopwatches, clipboards and pens to enjoy cheering on his four grandchildren in various sports.
It has not been easy for Nice to ease into retirement, however.
"Well, I tell you particularly what I miss the most is the kids. Being around the kids," Nice says gazing from the bleachers at Optimist Field in La Grande.
Nice is here to watch his grandsons, Anthony and Zach, play an All-Star baseball game.
"It's been a long time since I have not been coaching something," Larry says with a laugh.
Nice assisted La Grande track this season.
Former La Grande head track coach Joe Sandoz quitting after the 2001 season made Nice decide to leave coaching at the end of this season. Sandoz, Joe Brogdon, and Nice have coached together for about 16 to 17 years.
Larry calls the coaches "The Joe and Joe Show."
Nice and Sandoz traded the head track coaching job. Nice was at the helm from 1978 to 1980 and 1989 to 2000. Sandoz took over in 2001.
Nice was talked into coming back this past year to coach track.
Track has less pressure, Nice says.
"It is more of a laid-back type of thing," he said.
Larry says almost every school track record was set while he was associated with the program. He said there are a few boys records set while he was not coaching.
When he was coaching, Nice had many different hats as the La Grande head girls basketball coach and managing Little League and Babe Ruth teams.
Nice was an assistant football coach under Doc Savage. Nice assisted football for about 24 or 25 years.
He coached girls basketball from 1976-1985. In 1975, the girls basketball program was reinstated. Nice's teams made the state playoffs five out of 10 years.
"I would not change any of it," Nice said. "I'd do it all over again."
Exploring other options
Now that Nice is removed from coaching high school sports, he feels classifications should be examined again.
La Grande dropped down from the Class 4A level to 3A competition in 2000.
"It was a wise move dropping down to 3A," Nice says. "There was a real hubbub" about moving down.
Several schools are dropping down a classification in Union and Wallowa counties because of shrinking enrollment.
Joseph and Imbler drop from Class 2A to 1A competition beginning this fall.
Nice says he has felt in the last 15 years there should be new classifications.
"You can't keep banging your head against the wall against schools bigger than you are," Nice said.
He said there should be classifications for schools with over 1,000; 500 to 1,000; and 250 to 500 students.
Nice said small schools need a chance.
He said Vale has a strong tradition in football.
"That's not going to change," he said about the Class 3A program, which drops to 2A competition this fall. "That's been going on forever."
One of the most memorable moments in Nice's coaching career was "this group up here," he says glancing up at the 1988 board of the La Grande National Babe Ruth Team that went to the Junior World Series in Lebanon, Mo.
On the team was Nice's youngest son, Kevin, who played short stop.
Larry said it was phenomenal and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity the kids would never forget.
Larry's two older sons are Todd and Jeff. Todd was a three-time all-conference baseball player for La Grande. Jeff was a two-time all-conference football player at La Grande.
Todd's children, Zach and Anthony, plus Jeff's children, Amanda and Tyler are involved in sports.
Kevin lives in Pendleton, and Todd and Jeff's families live in La Grande.
Larry's three sons played football while he was an assistant coach.
Besides coaching his children, there have been many memorable moments with various teams.
"There have been highlights all the way along," Larry says.
Nice was a three-sport athlete at La Grande. He played tailback on the football team and was a Shrine alternate his senior year. In basketball, Nice was a two-year starting guard. He held the school track record in the 100 yards, prior to the standard metric in 1977, at 19.9 seconds and the 220 yards (22.2) and 200 yard-hurdles (20.1).
Nice was the 1962 La Grande High School Athlete of the Year. He attended Eastern Oregon State College and competed in basketball and track for two years.
He taught math and science at La Grande Middle School and taught at Greenwood Elementary.
The next chapter
Watching his grandchildren in summer tournaments has kept Nice busy.
"It's kind of year round," Nice says about his grandchildren's participation in sports.
"We still go to a lot of high school games."
Nice says wife Claudine has been very understanding because he spent a lot of time away from home. They will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in September.
"Claudine was very supportive," Nice says. She went to games and wanted to be a part of what went on.
Grandsons Anthony, 14, and Zach, who turns 13 today, are playing on the Babe Ruth 14-year-old All-Star team. Tyler is on the La Grande 11-12 Majors baseball team.
Tyler and Zach will be in the seventh grade, while Anthony and Amanda will be freshmen in the fall.