By TOM WILLIAMS
Classes began today at Ocean City High School but something is missing.
Yes, about 50 percent of the student body is missing as Ocean City tries to make a hybrid attendance schedule work in these times of COVID-19 challenges.
But that’s not it. Something else is missing.
For 52 of the last 56 years he was in the building on the first day of school. He was there for two years of junior high school (in the 1960s, classes for seventh and eighth grade students were held in the high school building). And he was there for four years of high school, graduating in 1970.
The only years he missed were four years of college, when he drove his baby blue Mustang with the black vinyl top (that’s the one he bought from Don Wiesenthal) back and forth to Millersville, PA. As soon as he graduated in 1974, he joined the faculty at OCHS and taught there for 46 school years.
Nickles taught wood shop and, in later years, some technology. He had students who were enthusiastic about the subject and, most likely, some who just expected it to be an easy class to pass. But, when they were finished, almost all of them knew how to use a hand plane, cut dovetail joints and glue wood. There are hundreds – maybe thousands – of pieces of furniture, jewelry boxes and corner shelves still in use throughout the area that were created in Bill Nickles’ shop.
In addition, students in his wood shop class learned how to develop their creative skills, approach critical thinking and even gain an interest in architecture.
Along the way, Nickles coached the wrestling team. He did it for 31 seasons, winning 311 dual meets. His 1987-88 team won the district championship and he was Coach of the Year. Twenty-one of his teams finished in the top five during the district tournament.
From Mike Cooper, Jim Bennett, Phil Faunce and Joe Monteleone in his early years as a coach, to Channing Perone and Johnny McCardell in his final years he developed the talents of some very successful wrestlers. That list is led by Patrick Lynch and also includes Greg Austin, Joe Galante, Mike Galante, Drew Muzslay, Trip Snyder and many others.
His 311 wins is the sixth highest total by an OCHS coach in a single sport, trailing Trish LeFever, Phil Birnbaum, John Bruno, Paul Baruffi and Craig Mensinger. Mensinger, who coached baseball for 32 seasons, is the only coach in OCHS history with more seasons at the helm. Bruno and Birnbaum have each equalled Nickles’ 31 seasons.
But Nickles friendly disposition, enthusiasm and bold laugh are missing this year in the halls of Ocean City High School. Not to mention his Hawaiian shorts and a mustache he has cultivated so well, putting him in the same class as David Crosby and the late Wilford Brimley.
It is safe to say that nobody has ever spent as many first days of school in the OCHS building as Bill Nickles. Possibly the challenge of teaching students how to prep lumber and sharpen tools in a virtual class motivated him to step down.
Whatever the reason, he is now retired and spending his time with his wife, Camille – among other things sitting in chairs on their deck and enjoying the September weather.