“Hey, Hey, Austin High!” The story of Coach Nivens

This story was printed in the Maroon on April 17, 2024. Written by Penn Smith, Franciso Sanchez-Celestino

Walking our halls today is eighty-four-year-old Roosevelt Nivens, a living legend here at Stephen F. Austin High School. With a remarkable tenure of 19 years as a coach and an additional four years as a substitute teacher, Nivens has left a mark on the hearts and minds of thousands within the Austin High community and beyond.

Nivens’ journey began in poverty, growing up in Muskogee, Oklahoma with his mother and five sisters. Despite humble beginnings, he found solace and mentorship in high school through basketball, forming a profound bond with his coach, who assumed the role of a surrogate father figure. This compassionate guidance inspired Nivens to pursue a career in coaching later in life.

Before his coaching career, Nivens earned a full scholarship to Langston University, where he excelled as a defensive tackle in football while also playing as a center for the basketball team and participating in track. “My experience as a student-athlete at Langston University was amazing, we were winners.” During Nivens’ time at Langstone University, the Langston Lions football team won three consecutive titles as champions of the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Conference in 1959, 1960, and 1961.

He said, “It helped me to become a coach, giving knowledge of the game. And built my character as a man, taught me how to get up when I fell down, and let me know I am important and loved.”

His collegiate years spanned from 1959 to 1963, a time marked by the pervasive grip of segregation, which denied him admission to the University of Oklahoma.

Following his college tenure as a student-athlete, Nivens transitioned into the educator role, a path unexpectedly accelerated by an injury to the head coach at Booker T. Washington High School in Idabel, Oklahoma. Thus, in his inaugural year as a teacher, Nivens found himself thrust into the role of head coach for the football team, a daunting challenge that he persevered in amidst much adversity. “It was very unexpected but there were already a few good athletes there, and we ended our season 5-5.” He was there for three years as the head coach for the football, basketball, and track teams.

His journey led him to Austin, Texas, where he embarked on coaching girls’ softball at Austin High, a program he initiated. His dedication and prowess soon saw him coaching all three levels of basketball, affectionately christening the team as “The Running Maroons.”

Nivens’ unwavering compassion and perseverance within the Austin High community culminated in a crowning honor, as the gymnasium was named after him in his honor. Overwhelmed with emotion upon receiving this honor, he fondly recalls the moment he learned of the gym’s dedication, prompting him to invite his entire family to witness the unveiling of the maroon-lettered tribute. So profound was his attachment to the gym that he chose it as the venue for his wedding to his second wife, Oleander Thomas, in 2021, a testament to the deep significance of Austin High in his life.

Today, Nivens continues to impact Austin High, sharing wisdom, spreading smiles, and leaving a remarkable legacy of compassion, perseverance, and loyalty in his wake. With plans to substitute for two more years before retiring, he remains an unwavering supporter of Austin High.

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