Love of kids drives Gray's Creek baseball coach's positive influence

HOPE MILLS, N.C. (WTVD) -- There's no complexity to why Jeff Nance enjoys coaching.

"I just love kids," he exclaimed.

Nance is quick to tell you that his coaching style is a product of having had great coaches himself.

"I just remember how those coaches made me feel and know how they made me feel important and a part of something and they pushed the right buttons to help me to better myself," he said.

That feeling of worth is at the very core of Nance's approach. He lets each one of his players know that they matter regardless of ability.

"I think that all kids want to succeed. I know all kids want to be a part of something and all kids want to feel important and all kids want to be loved" he said.

Tyler Blackburn is a rising senior on the Bears baseball team and told us that Nance is the real deal.

"Coach Nance will always be there for every kid. If it's about baseball or if it's not about baseball. If they're having trouble with anything. You can always count on Coach Nance."

The repeated failures that come from playing baseball are a big part of why Nance feels it helps teach important lessons.

"It's all about picking yourself back up and it's about the next at bat and it's about the next inning," he said. "It's about looking forward and hoping that how you prepared is going to help you, you know, in the future."

Ownership of the program and pride in their facilities is another requirement at Gray's Creek, Blackburn said.

"October or September days we might go out to the field, pull weeds in the bullpen or make sure the field looks good so whenever the time does come, the field is ready to go," he said.

That approach leads to small moments of magic. Moments every player has earned. Nance beams when talking about it.

"I love to see their faces when the game starts, and they run out on the field when they call for the lineups," Nance said. "Just the pride that they have, to see the grass is green and the clay looks good and my uniform is white. I guess the pregame when we go out there, I get so excited when we run out on the field. I love that!"

Gray's Creek was 5-0 when the season was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving Nance and his team wondering what might have been this year. He said his greatest satisfaction as a coach and teacher, however, is watching kids arrive grade nine, watching them grow and then calling their name as they walk across the stage to graduate.
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