Hats aren’t allowed in school, but it wouldn’t seem right to keep a lid off Steve Nelson. The physical education teacher has worn hats in High Plains Elementary School since it opened 24 years ago.
Students might get sent to the principal’s office for breaking the dress code. Nelson gets her approval. “It is part of his relating to kids,” Principal Kimberly Hollm said. “It is part of the fun here. He is an icon.” Students let him get away with it, too. “Almost every day we see a new hat,” said Kaylee Carroll, 10. “It’s fun because he’s a teacher,” said Daniel Boeke, 10. Nelson keeps a stash of 30 hats in his office, rotating these from the 400-something he has at home. “My collection is just beginning,” he said. Some are sports caps. Some go with the game of the day in gym class. Some light up or make music. His favorites are the sweat-stained felt work hats handed down by relatives. “My granddad was a farmer and rancher. His brother homesteaded in Colorado north of Limon by Last Chance,” he said. “There is so much history in those hats, so much character in them. I never saw my granddad or his brother without a hat.” Nelson’s profession demands he wears many hats, so to speak. It isn’t for vanity. “Some guys need hats and some don’t,” said student E.J. Davis. “He doesn’t.” Still, is Nelson hiding something — maybe thinning hair like so many guys pushing 50? Not in his case. “He says his hats breed more hair,” said his wife, Stacie, a teacher at Explorer Elementary School. Hats help her read her husband’s mind. “When he wears his uncle’s and granddad’s hats, I know he is thinking about them,” she said. “About this time of year, he starts bringing out the whitewater rafting hats.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0253 or firstname.lastname@example.org