Nine years ago, Liberty cross country coach Tim Nixon had an opening on his staff. He reached out to Tim Fritson, a former soccer and track athlete at the school. But there was one issue — Fritson had never run cross country.
“I told him I didn’t know anything about distance running, and he said he didn’t care,” Fritson said. “He said he could teach me the distance running, but he couldn’t teach people to love kids.
“That was his priority. He never wavered on that.”
The Liberty community is mourning the loss of Nixon, who died unexpectedly at 12:31 a.m. Monday. He was 63. He is survived by his wife and three children. A celebration of life for Nixon will be held at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty.
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Over the last two days, Nixon has been remembered as compassionate, empathetic and obsessed with teaching student-athletes. He coached the Liberty cross country teams for 39 years and is the only girls head coach in school history. Under his guidance, the Blue Jays won a girls state championship in 2006 and a boys state championship in 2003.
The boys team won a second straight title in 2004, but after sensing that championship was on the horizon, Nixon handed the team to an assistant coach, Robert Marguardt, in the hopes Marguardt would get the credit that Nixon felt he was due.
“That’s exactly the kind of person he was,” Fritson said. “He always cared about everyone else more than himself.”
Nixon, who ran cross country and track at Missouri, retired from teaching in 2011 but continued to coach. He had told friends he enjoyed being around the athletes too much to give it up.
He was known to use sports as a teaching tool. “Winning isn’t everything,” he’d often say, “but trying to win is.” After every cross country meet, he instructed his runners to find the meet’s directors and shake their hands and thank them for hosting.
While teaching at Heritage Middle School in Liberty, Nixon also coached the eighth-grade track teams.
“He made it so much fun that we had huge numbers come out for track ever year,” said Liberty football coach Chad Frigon, who coached alongside Nixon for 16 years at the middle school. “Kids wouldn’t play a sport their entire lives, but they’d be out for eighth-grade track.”
Frigon and Fritson both saw Nixon at church Sunday. He was in fine spirits, they said, showing no signs of health problems.
Nixon was home early Monday morning when he died. The Liberty boys and girls cross country teams were informed of the news during a meeting before school.
“That was a tough meeting,” Fritson said. “I have not met anyone who’s had interaction with him and not loved him dearly. The same was true for our kids. It was a blow for them to unexpectedly lose him. It’s been very emotional for all of us.”