HARLAN, Iowa — The coach with more state-tournament appearances than anyone in Iowa boys basketball history has a confession to make.
When Nic is gone, he's lost.
“When he's not here, you notice it,'' Harlan coach Mitch Osborn says. “It's terrible. The practices are not the same. It's not as smooth.''
For more than a decade now, Nic Christensen has been Osborn's right-hand man. When he was 2, Nic was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a nonprogressive brain disorder. Now 31, Nic won't be running a marathon anytime soon, but when you compose a list of his limitations you won't need much time.
He owns his own business, Nic's Optical, in which he uses machinery to grind and smooth prescription lens. His father, Jay, is a local optometrist. He drives his own pickup with the help of hand brakes. And yes, he's an assistant coach in one of the state's most successful programs. He's become such a part of the Osborn family that he goes with them on vacation to Okoboji every summer.
“The biggest thing I do is treat him normal,'' Osborn said.
Osborn approached Nic when he was in high school about becoming a student manager. Upon graduation, he stayed on as a volunteer manager, running the clock during practices and keeping track of timeouts during games. A couple of years ago, Osborn realized they weren't taking full advantage of Nic's talents.
“I said, 'We really need to get you in the front row with us, so let's get your coaching certificate,''' he said.
Twice a week, Mitch and his wife Nancy worked with Nic as he tried to earn the certificate online.
“It was not easy. There was a lot of essays, but everything was his own thoughts,'' Mitch Osborn said.
Soon he was in the front row. He attends summer league games and works Harlan's annual camp.
“Those kids are just attracted to him,'' Osborn said. “We would not be where we're at without Nic being a part of the program.''
The Cyclone players say he's the perfect antidote for the drudgery of practice.
“I've never seen Nic in a bad mood,'' senior Nate Gettys said. “It seems like whenever you're down and having a bad game, you can take a look back at Nic and you just instantly smile.''
Added teammate Adam Juhl: “He relaxes us. He enjoys being around us and we enjoy being around him.''
Nic said he doesn't like bad days. If something's not going well within the team, “I try to make it better.''
Osborn knows people mean well when they remark to him about how wonderful it is that the coaches and players include Nic.
“They don't understand. It's the other way around. It's what he does for us.''