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Home arrow Opinion arrow GOING OUT ON TOP OF HIS SPORT



MORE TIME TO RELAX: Tom Hayes has coached at Union High School since 1975. (The Observer/PAT PERKINS).
MORE TIME TO RELAX: Tom Hayes has coached at Union High School since 1975. (The Observer/PAT PERKINS).

By Pat Perkins

Observer Staff Writer

Tom Hayes walked into the shower a state champion and walked out the runner-up.

The Union High School girls cross country team had just won the 1991 state championship, and Hayes was cleaning up before the ride home. When he got out of the shower he met Regis coach Mike Bauer for the first time — and Bauer had some bad news.

Regis had won the title instead of Union.

"One of their kids got left out of the results sheet," Hayes said.

A parent's video showed the runner crossing the finish line, cutting Regis' score and adding to Union's. But the Oregon School Activities Association didn't immediately accept the proof and that left Hayes in the most awkward of situations.

"We could have gotten on the bus and left," Hayes said.

He didn't. The blue trophy that goes to state champions was given to Bauer. The Union girls walked off that bus and gave their gold medals to the Regis coach.

"The girls were crying. And he was crying, and I was crying, and the bus driver was crying. It was as awful as it could be — but it was right."

Hayes has been doing the right thing for Union's cross country teams since 1984, and he hasn't done that badly as the head track and field coach since 1975. His retirement this month leaves a legacy of success at state tournaments that few have matched.

His cross country teams have won seven state titles, six of them by the girls. His girls track and field teams won state championships in 1977, when Hayes was co-coach with Larry Sweek, and in 1996. In all, his teams have placed in the top four (and won trophies) at state 25 times.

All this from a man who was supposed to coach baseball but really wanted to coach football and did for four years in the early '80s.

"When I came here it was with the idea of being a baseball coach, but I never did it. Not then, not ever," Hayes said. "I always thought I wanted to be the head football coach and finally had the opportunity to do it, but when the moment started, I thought this isn't a good change. But if I hadn't done it, I would have felt terrible."

By 1984, after four years coaching football, Hayes was ready to move on. The cross country job opened, he moved over, and "from the word go, I've discovered that's where my leanings are."

That first year, his boys team took third at state. The next year, the girls won the first of six state championships. They would have to wait until 1992 to win another.

Along the way he coached his three children, Thomas, Jack and Mary, with Jack winning individual state cross country titles in 1990 and 1991.

"I felt really wonderful about coaching my own children," he said. "They had some success and I felt like I helped that. And we were closer as a result."

Another of Hayes' worst memories about cross country came during Jack's senior year. The Bobcat boys had a strong team, but only one team from the district was going to state that year, and it was Elgin.

"We had to get out of district and get to the state meet to beat Elgin," Hayes said. "We couldn't get by them at district — we lost by nine points. It was worse than heart-rendering, and we had three boys qualify for state (by finishing in the top seven at district) and they went one, three and 11 at state."

His secrets to success have included coaching girls the same way as boys and demanding trust from yet trusting his athletes.

"Kids can't go beyond themselves unless they feel that their teammates … are all on the same page," he said. "You don't have to win or lose, you just do the best you can do and everyone feels good."

The basic philosophies were there, but the technical aspects of coaching running clicked in the early '90s.

"I became a better coach and a really good cross country coach in the early '90s," he said. "I went to a clinic and the light bulb came on. They showed me some things that I needed to know. I would have grounded kids' legs into the dirt."

An English teacher in the classroom the last several years, Hayes is ready for retirement.

"I am very tired of working in the classroom. I'm probably burned out on the coaching end of it," he said.

He wanted to leave the cross country team while "there is a fine nucleus of athletes and they're ready to go. They understand what they're doing and they should not have to start at the very bottom."

Most of the 2001 girls team that won a state title will return this fall. It was almost enough to tempt Hayes to stick around for another year.

"Somewhere along the line you've got to stop and let someone come in and learn," he said.

Hayes has learned on the job, and he has regrets, but they haven't consumed him to the point of anxiety.

"If you don't have any regrets it means you didn't do anything, didn't take any chances, didn't experiment," he said. "Your critique of yourself is a little harsh. I've thought, no, it isn't harsh enough, but you have to try to put it behind you and move on. I've made mistakes. … So long as you pick up on it, and you try to rectify it and improve on it, you're fine."

The 1991 state cross country meet showed how a mistake could be corrected, no matter how painful. The lesson learned was one of sportsmanship.

The improvement came the next year and in 1993, when the Union girls won consecutive state titles.

"We came back and crushed them."


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