Orange PD captain wears other hat, takes girls softball team to surprising heights
For Orange PD Captain Dave Nichols, the summer of 2018 will go down as one of his most memorable.
No, he didn’t spend two weeks surfing in Bali, relaxing on the beaches in Maui, or spending time with all of his family.
Rather, Nichols spent most of his free time this summer on the softball fields with a group of very talented young ladies.
Nichols, a 30-year veteran of the OPD who started at the agency in 1988, took the PYL Elite, a team of 12 All Stars from the Placentia-Yorba Linda recreational league, to surprising heights.
The age 10-and-under team of the most skilled players in the PYL Girls Softball Association (there are some 120 total players) not only took second place in the state tournament, but also took second place in the nationals — a huge and unexpected achievement for the squad of mostly 9- and 10-year-olds.
Nichols, who doesn’t like the attention, said coaching in the PYL recreational league is his way of giving back to the community and spending time with his daughter — something many police officers and other first responders enjoy doing.
“In law enforcement,” Nichols says, “there are a lot of us who coach and do things outside of work, so it’s more about giving back to the community and teaching and mentoring young people.”
The impressive showing of the PYL Elite squad followed the regular season, which ran February through May. In the regular season, Nichols coached the Blackhawks, one of 10 teams of 12 players. The Blackhawks, which included his daughter, Sierra, 10, had a fun and successful 18-game season.
Then it came time for the managers to select the 12-girl PYL All-Star team, who would represent the cities of Placentia and Yorba Linda in tournaments throughout Southern California.
Sierra, a speedy left-handed “slapper” hitter who throws right and plays second base, made the team. And Nichols was selected by the league representatives to be the manager.
Nichols, who is married to Tustin PD Sgt. Stephanie Nichols, had been to this rodeo before.
He coached his now 16-year-old daughter, Lexi, on the 12-and-under PYL All-Star team in 2014. That squad ended up placing 8th in the state championships and 6th in the national competition.
This year’s all-star team was formed at the end of May and then played in several regional tournaments.
The top six in a 15-team, double-elimination tournament advanced to state competition.
The PYL Elite lost the first game in that tournament. One more loss, and they would go home.
But they came back the next day and won five games in a row.
When the dust had settled, PYL Elite ended up in fourth place.
The team had a week to prepare for the state championship tourney in Lancaster, held in July during a withering heat wave.
About 40 teams competed and the top 8 teams would advance to the nationals.
“It was about 120 degrees on the field,” Nichols recalls. “One umpire in the first inning had heat exhaustion. An ambulance came and took him to the hospital.”
The rules in the state tournament were the same: lose twice, go home.
“We went in with an attitude of having fun, and maybe winning a game or two,” Nichols recalls.
The PYL Elite again ended up being overachievers, defeating Walnut (ranked #1 in the state at the time) and other high-seeded teams.
Before every game, the girls would huddle with Nichols and head coach Steve Reyes and other coaches for a pre-game prayer.
Reyes is Nichols’ father-in-law.
“You should hear our talks at dinnertime,” jokes Nichols of Reyes, who lives next door to Nichols and his family.
After ending up second in state competition, PYL Elite moved into the nationals, held this year in Camarillo.
Before they went, the team watched, in Irvine, the women’s USA Olympic team compete in a world championship tournament. The girls took pictures of such star players as pitchers Monica Abbott and Keilani Ricketts, whose team later qualified for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Softball is back in the Olympics for first time since 2008.
During one of their practices, the girls also were thrilled when UCLA’s women’s softball starting first baseman Kinsley Washington paid them a visit and gave them pointers.
“They were thrilled,” Nichols says. “It was a great experience and a memory that the girls will never forget.”
The weeklong national championship tournament, held the first week of August, features 38 of the best teams in the Western United States out of a few thousand.
The PYL Elite rattled off an impressive series of wins before losing in the championship game to West Agoura for the title.
“These girls had an amazing summer experience they won’t forget,” says Nichols, who runs the Orange PD’s Investigative Services Division as a captain.
“It was neat to see the relationships grow and see the girls mature and get better.”
The memories of summer 2018 and all that his young players accomplished will be forever remembered.
“This is a ‘give back’ not only to my daughter, but to all 12 girls on our team,” Nichols says of his softball managing duties. “It’s also their families, friends and representing your cities. There’s a lot of good that comes out of it for everyone.”
“These girls played 40 games or so in six to seven weeks. It was an incredible bonding experience that taught lessons of teamwork, positive attitude, effort, confidence building and most of all character. It’s important that all of us continue to be positive role models to the next generation, on and off the field.”