“We are here to try to make people grow stronger and more self-reliant, even when it means submerging our own egos. In developing oneself, there should always be some sense of community, some service orientation to life,” wrote Alvin Poussaint.
Charles Nichols, an administrator, coach and teacher for more than 30 years in the Detroit Public Schools, made his transition on April 23 at the age of 70.
Although Coach Nichols is gone from this physical world, his spirit will live on because he lived Poussaint’s words of service all his life and the Detroit community and too many students to name have benefited from his benevolence.
He gave service to his community, but was an even better father said his oldest son, Darren Nichols, a reporter for the Detroit News.
“The things he gave to Kettering students he gave to us everyday,” Nichols said. “He impressed upon us on a daily basis to value education, be disciplined and respect others. He set high expectations and he expected us to live up to them.”
Charles Nichols extended that same effort and concern in every position he undertook.
Service in DPS started for Nichols in 1965, the year Kettering High first opened. There he taught social studies, business math and health and physical education. He also found time to coach tennis, football and track.
But he found his greatest success leading Kettering’s basketball program. In 1970 and 1971, his Lindsay Hairston-led teams won the Public School League title. He was named Coach of the Year three times (1970, 1971 and 1974).
“Sure, Dad wanted to win,” his son said, “but he used sports as a vehicle for young people to get connected with education. He understood that if he could get kids to follow him and take instruction on the field, he could transfer that same discipline to the classroom. He was not raised with a silver spoon, so he really understood and could relate to what many of his students and players were going through.”
Coach Nichols was born in Newton, Miss. He attended Tuskegee Institute where he graduated with a degree in physical education, then served in the U.S. Army for two years. Later he earned a master’s in education from Wayne State University.
He left Kettering to join Dick Vitale as his assistant coach at the University of Detroit. Among the players he coached were Terry Tyler, John Long and Terry Duerod. They all played in the NBA.
Nichols came back to Kettering in 1978 as its athletic director and stayed there for 10 years. He later became assistant director of athletics for the PSL in 1986, a position he held until his retirement in 2002. He was named to the DPS Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1995 and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the PSL in 2004.
Coach Nichols had an intrinsic sense of community and was deeply concerned about the well-being of the young people he felt blessed to serve and mentor.
“He took great pride in seeing how his students and players turned out after high school,” Darren Nichols said. “He felt very good when a player like Joe Johnson became a lawyer, and many others are teaching and coaching in DPS, too.”
Charles Nichols is survived by his wife of 42 years, Sylvia, and three sons, Darren, Cameron and Brandon.