Apryl Bigham Nickson Brevard’s First Female Prep Athlete to be Recognized as All-American in Any Sport

By  //  April 6, 2020

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As Adaptive Physical Education Teacher, worked with students with mental and physical disabilities

Apryl Bigham Nickson is considered to be among the best female swimmers in Cocoa High School and Brevard County history. During her three-year career at Cocoa High during the early 1970s, Nickson was selected Most Valuable Swimmer, while earning All-Cape Coast Conference recognition three times, and All-State twice. She was Brevard County’s first female prep athlete to be recognized as an All-American in any sport.

“Despite lots of obstacles, she was the most dedicated female athlete I had ever seen,” said former Cocoa High Athletic Director Charles Smith.

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Apryl Bigham Nickson is considered to be among the best female swimmers in Cocoa High School and Brevard County history.

During her three-year career at Cocoa High during the early 1970s, Nickson was selected Most Valuable Swimmer, while earning All-Cape Coast Conference recognition three times, and All-State twice.

She was Brevard County’s first female prep athlete to be recognized as an All-American in any sport.

“Despite lots of obstacles, she was the most dedicated female athlete I had ever seen,” said former Cocoa High Athletic Director Charles Smith.

“We were the only school with no swimming pool and her first “coach” was an assistant football coach whose qualification was he knew how to swim,” said Smith, who was inducted into the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.

Her last two years she swam for legendary Coach Dave Mark. Practices were held at Merritt Island High at 5:30 a.m., with “home” meets were held at MIHS but most all the meets were at other schools.

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Nickson also swam for the AAU Rockledge-Cocoa Swim Team year-round.

“I’m sorry I could not convince her to stay at Rockledge as she was the best,” said Cocoa-Rockledge Swim Coach Hugh Miller.

Several of her individual school, county and conference records in the 50 Free (25.3) and 100 Butterfly (1:01.2) still stand today. In Nickson’s three-year career at Cocoa, she won the Cape Coast Conference individual championship in both events three straight years.

Nickson was also a member of the Medley and 200 Free Relay teams. As an individual winner at Districts, she qualified for the FHSAA State swim meet. As a sophomore, she placed third in both events and as a junior and senior, she placed second in both events with the relay teams also placing second.

Because Title IX did not become Law until 1976, there were no scholarships offered by the colleges.

However, the state Junior-Community colleges did have men and women’s swimming club teams, so Nickson stayed home to swim for Brevard Junior College, the precursor of today’s Eastern Florida State College during her freshman year and was recognized as the school’s MVP swimmer.

During Apryl Bigham Nickson’s career as an Adaptive Physical Education Teacher working with students with mental and physical disabilities, she discovered and developed a love for special needs swimmers and became a Special Olympics aquatics coach, and served more than 20 years as a head coach. (Image for Space Coast Daily)

The NJCAA did have a national championship swim meet held in Idaho and Nickson was the only Brevard swimmer to participate, placing second in the 50 Free and 100 Butterfly.

She transferred to the University of Central Florida and earned her Bachelor of Arts in Education Degree and was selected as UCF’s Physical Educator of the Year.

After serving as an assistant high school coach, she became the first female in Orange County to be the head boys and girls swimming coach at Dr. Phillips High in Orlando. After 25 years, she passed the torch to her daughter Natilie and became her assistant.

During Nickson’s career as an Adaptive Physical Education Teacher working with students with mental and physical disabilities, she discovered and developed a love for special needs swimmers and became a Special Olympics aquatics coach, and served more than 20 years as a head coach.

During her Special Olympics coaching career, numerous swimmers under her guidance won events and championships at the district, state, national and international levels.

2020 SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME inductee Apryl Bigham Nickson, right, with her daughter Natalie Nickson and fellow Dr. Phillips High School swimming coach Leo Ramirez.  (Image for Space Coast Daily)

Among her many awards and recognitions during her coaching career are Conference Coach-of-the-Year, three times; 2003 World Games Aquatics Special Olympics head coach; 2010 Florida Special Olympics Coach-of-the-Year; 2011 National Games Special Olympics Aquatics head coach; 2011 World Games aquatics Coach; 2012 North America Special Olympics Coach-of-the-Year; 2014 National Games aquatics Special Olympics head coach; 2018 National Games Aquatics Special Olympics head coach.

She retired from teaching and coaching at Dr. Phillips in 2017, but not from the Special Olympics, as she and her daughter Natalie are involved with the new Special Olympics open water swimming program.

Nickson and her husband Jim, who was a wrestler at the University of Central Florida, have been married for 42 years and reside in Orlando.

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THE 2020 SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME Banquet and Induction Ceremony will take place at the Cocoa Beach Country Club on Friday, May 8.

FOR INFORMATION ABOUT the 2020 SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME, call 321-323-4460 or 321-615-8111 or e-mail Contact@SpaceCoastDaily.com

CLICK HERE TO SEE MEMBERS OF THE SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME

The Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame is located in the main athletic building on the Melbourne Campus of Eastern Florida State College. Portraits and biographies of the Hall of Famers are displayed on the wall in the building’s main hallway that runs parallel to the gym and outside the athletic department offices. Memorabilia items and related sports artifacts will be added to the display over time.

The Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame selection committee announced an impressive array of outstanding individuals to be inducted into the 2020 Class of the Hall of Fame.

The 2020 Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame Induction Banquet and Sports Awards will be held Friday, May 8 at the Cocoa Beach Country Club.

The festivities include a meet and greet with the area’s sports royalty beginning at 6 p.m., and the dinner and induction proceeding will start at 6:45 p.m. and includes compelling video tributes of each of the inductees.

The 2020 Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame induction event, and the 2020 High School Breakfast of Champions recognition awards, are sponsored by Health First, Erdman Automotive, All Points, Clear Choice Health Care, Savings Safari, Friday Night Locker Room and Rock Paper Simple.

The Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame includes an impressive array of outstanding individuals to be inducted into the 2020 Class of the Hall of Fame.

Dozens of nominees were considered in four categories including professional sports, college sports, high school sports and amateur sports.

Special honorary recognition will also be bestowed upon individuals and teams that have made significant contributions to sports on the Space Coast.

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Space Coast Daily created the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame in 2012 and has so far inducted more than 160 of Brevard County’s most outstanding athletes, coaches and sports personalities.

Serving on the committee are Space Coast Daily President & Publisher Tom Palermo, Vice President Giles Malone, Editor-in-Chief Dr. Jim Palermo, Managing Editor Zach Clark, the Friday Night Locker Room’s Steve Wilson and Orville Susong, former Health First COO Larry Garrison and Amateur Athletic Union Vice President Rusty Buchanan.

“The list of inductees for 2020 induction include athletes and coaches everybody knows – and some that may have been forgotten with the passing of time,” said Tom Palermo.

FOR INFORMATION about the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame, or to make a reservation, e-mail Contact@SpaceCoastDaily.com or call 321-615-8111.

SPACE COAST DAILY TV: Tim Wakefield talks about his induction into the first class of the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame.

SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME CLASS OF 2020

• PROFESSIONAL CATEGORY INDUCTEES: Jamel Dean, Football; Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Wrestling; Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Football; Mark Lake, Skateboarding; Juwaan Taylor, Football

• COLLEGE CATEGORY INDUCTEES: Derek Hamm, Football; Paulette King, Basketball; Dylan Lewis, Soccer; Melanie Murphy, Softball

• PREP CATEGORY INDUCTEES: Lexy Denaburg, Volleyball; Apryl Bigham Nickson, Swimming; Andi Sellers, Soccer

• AMATEUR/RECREATION CATEGORY INDUCTEE: Peter Blount, Track & Field; Karina Villegas, Sled Hockey; Caylor Williams, Wrestling

• COACHING CATEGORY INDUCTEES: Sean Ballard, Wrestling; Doug Butler, Cross County and Track; Aubin Goporo, Basketball; Gerald Hodgin, Football; Bill Sinclair, Softball; Don Smith, Basketball

• SPORTS DEVELOPMENT INDUCTEE: Loren McClanahan

• LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT INDUCTEE: Clint Hurdle

• SPORTS OFFICIAL INDUCTEES: Ted Ruta

• SPORTS JOURNALISM INDUCTEES: Steve Vaughn

• SPORTS AMBASSADOR AWARD INDUCTEE: Congressman Bill Posey

• CHALLENGER AWARDS INDUCTEES: Brevard Special Olympics

• TEAM OF THE YEAR: 2019 Satellite High Cross Country

• LEGACY CHAMPIONS: TBA

• SPECIAL TRIBUTE: TBA

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE MEMBERS OF THE SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME

CLICK HERE FOR BREVARD COUNTY NEWS

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