First-year Nelson County coach Trevor Mason seeks to build his program by putting people first
By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com
BARDSTOWN, Ky. — Trevor Mason’s journeys have taken him to eastern Kentucky, western Missouri, central Florida and a few points in between but now he’s in his Old Kentucky Home.
Make that his Old Kentucky Basketball Home.
“I grew up in Bloomfield and I graduated from Nelson County in 2008,” Mason says with a smile.
Now he’s back at Nelson, in his first year of trying to rebuild a high school program that has fallen on tough times. But most importantly, he’s shining the light of Christ on his team, his school and his hometown. While the wins aren’t yet flowing on the court — the Cardinals stood at 5-16 after losses to Marion County, Anderson County and Franklin County on successive days — the foundational differences in the lives of his players are taking hold.
“We are a relationship-based program,” says Mason, who is in his first season as a boys’ head coach. “At the end of the day, you care about the kids and you turn those boys into men. You pour your heart and soul into that and I think people will see what you are about.”
What Mason is about is devoting every aspect of his life to a ministry. It’s not necessarily being in a pulpit on Sunday mornings — though Mason toyed with that idea at one time — but simply serving God wherever and whenever the opportunity arises.
“People around here think I am a preacher,” Mason says with a big smile. “I have given a couple of sermons, I guess you could say, but I wouldn’t call myself a preacher. I am never going to shut that door on the ministry, but right now, teaching and coaching and being a husband and a father, all of those things are a ministry in themselves.”
During Monday’s loss to Anderson County, the Cardinals’ youth was more than apparent. Not a single senior is listed on the roster provided by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association website and only three players had scored a varsity point before this year. Those three averaged a combined 4.7 points last season..
Mason accepted the monumental challenge of a program that has not advanced to the Fifth Region Tournament since 2017 and has not won a 19th District championship since 2010. It’s a program that has never captured a regional championship since opening in 1969.
But Nelson is a program that won six consecutive district crowns from 1999-2004 and has, at times, been considered in the upper echelon of the Fifth Region. Mason, who was a sophomore when Nelson reached the regional semifinals in 2006, knows the task is formidable, but not impossible.
It starts with a mindset before wins and losses.
“Oh you want to win!” Mason laughed, “But when I took this job, I thought about what kind of coach do you want to be? They know I love them. I tell them that I love them. We talk about love a lot and we try to do things right.
“We talk about those things in the locker room, like ‘What is the highest form of love? It is agape love. They shake their heads, so I say, ‘You know, agape means sacrifice. We talk about the sacrifice to make your team better, to make yourself better, to make your community better.
“Obviously, we can’t be like Sunday school or just tell them about Jesus, but I think that the guys know where I am coming from.”
During Monday’s game, the Cardinals stayed close for a while, but Anderson pulled away in the second half for a 55-34 win. Mason could be seen encouraging his team, yet showing frustration when someone missed an assignment.
“I will never demean my kids,” he says. “I will demand of my kids. You set the standard and you hold them accountable.”
He knows that approach from his high school coaches, Artie Braden, for whom Mason played one year at John Hardin High School before returning to Nelson County, where he suited up for Minor Harmon. He counts both as coaching mentors and talks with them often.
Mason has also enlisted the support of former Anderson County coach Glen Drury, who won 535 games over 33 years and was known for developing his program through hard work and a solid feeder system. Mason says Drury consults with him one day a week.
Mason believes rebuilding a winner on Highway 62 will have to start long before players enroll at NCHS. “The first thing is consistency across the board. … I think it starts with consistency. Not just at the middle schools (Old Kentucky Home and Bloomfield) but in the elementary schools. Right now, we don’t have a feeder system but I think that will come in a few years.”
But now that foundation is being built through relationships, the same kind of relationships Mason drew upon as he began his walk with Christ. As he was growing up, a youth minister, Adam Hale, began taking Mason to Camp Calvary, located in Washington County, during the summers. Mason smiles and says he would not miss going to camp in those days and some of the relationships that began at camp have grown even deeper today.
(Ironically, Hale, who is now the senior minister at Glendale Christian Church, is a Fifth Region official and recently called a Nelson County game. Mason smiled and said their relationship had no bearing on the game. “Officiating and coaching are both objective. You are there to do your job,” he said.)
Mason eventually enrolled at Kentucky Christian University but after staying there a semester, transferred to Ozark Christaiin College in Joplin, Missouri. Mason says that being 10 hours from home “was something I needed. I needed to get away from some things and people I was around in Kentucky.”
But after playing two years in Joplin, Mason decided to come back home. When Eastern Kentucky University told him only a handful of credits would transfer, he ended up at Boyce College, located on the campus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. He would graduate with a degree in Humanities. He would later earn an M.A. from the University of the Cumberlands.
While playing basketball for Boyce, Mason got his first taste of coaching, driving back to Nelson County, where he was working with the Bloomfield Middle School team.
But more importantly, he says, it was at Boyce that a mentor, Kenneth Hart, challenged Mason. “He was in the seminary. He’s now a pastor in New York. He ministered to me,” Mason remembers. “I think the interesting thing about my walk, you know things but it’s all head knowledge. I heard a mixtape called ‘Church Clothes’ by Lecrae. It spoke to me in every area of my life.
“I started to see how the gospel was translated to life to the dark areas of the world.”
And Mason started on a winding coaching journey that led to his current job. There was a one-year stint leading the girls’ basketball program at Louisville’s Moore High School. He smiles at the memory of a season that ended at 6-25, saying, “You think you know it all until you get in that seat. I saw I needed to take a step back and go back into being an assistant coach.”
He bounced around a bit, even living in Tampa, Florida for a year, before heading back to Kentucky. Teaching special education, Mason was working at Churchill Park school in Louisville and was serving as an assistant coach at Iroquois High School when the Nelson County job came open. He jumped at the chance to return home.
“I think it’s a privilege to coach here. I know a lot of people here and a lot of people know me,” he says.
Mason and his wife, Kaitlin, purchased a house in Bardstown and became involved at Redeemer Christian Fellowship church. The couple has two preschool children.
Back in his hometown, before he ever led his new team on the basketball court, Mason was making a difference. During the summer, and fall, he was one of the driving forces behind a series of prayer walks through Bardstown.
“It was initially in response to all the protesting that was going on in regard to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,” Mason remembers. “With COVID, we had to figure out a way. For the church at that moment, the biggest response was the gospel. The idea was given to me by somebody at church.”
Partnering with First Baptist Church of Bardstown, the walks ended with people dividing into groups to pray. The response was good, both from those participating and those impacted by the prayers.
Mason says it’s simply ministry. “If you want to do ministry, do down your street and ask people what they need,” he says. “There are people that are hurting and they are right there next door to you.”
And while doing so in a different context, Mason applies the principle to his coaching style. While he is in charge, he’s not a “my way or the highway” coach. He makes it a practice to talk or text with players about what they see in games.
“I think that the best coaches are the ones who are getting feedback from their players. It gives the players ownership of what they are doing,” he says.
And that develops the relationships that grow what is ultimately a lasting impact in Nelson County or wherever life takes the young men in his care.
“Us coaches and teachers, we spend a good third of our lives with these guys,” Mason says. “I would hope that as teachers and coaches, we are pouring into them more than what they are learning in the classroom or on the basketball court.
“I want to give them the tools they need to be the men they need to be.”