By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer
Ken Hayes never claimed to be a great basketball player, or even a good one.
“At NSU, I was the 20-point man,” Hayes, 79, recalled. “If our team got 20 points ahead or 20 points behind they sent me out. I played very little.”
Young Ken Hayes watched. He had plenty of time for that.
“I stayed on the bench and studied the game while the rest of the guys were out playing,” he said.
Studying paid off.
After graduating from Northeastern State University in the mid-1950s, Hayes embarked on a 42-year career coaching basketball. It took him from a tiny southern Oklahoma school district that doesn’t exist anymore to top college teams such as the University of Tulsa and Oral Roberts University. He retired in 1997.
“When I retired, I wasn’t impressed with my coaching, but I did ride some good horses,” he said.
Hayes spent his first four years coaching at a tiny school called Bradley. From there, he spent a semester at Stilwell before landing a job at what was then Bacone Junior College. He said he had wanted to take advantage of a chance to coach at the college level.
“I was hired on a Tuesday and had a game on Thursday,” Hayes said. “I didn’t even know all the players’ names. At a game with Eastern State College, I’d say ‘You go in for him.’”
Bacone finished its 1964 basketball season third in the nation and played at a national finals tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., he said.
After that winning year, Hayes went to a community college in California to coach baseball, his favorite sport.
He later left his $13,000-a-year job and took a $6,500-a-year job as assistant basketball coach at the University of Tulsa.
“I did not want to raise a family in southern California,” Hayes said. “It was a period of social unrest and California was in the middle of it.”
Hayes spent 10 years at TU before going to New Mexico State University, which he called “a dream situation” because basketball was a hot sport in the Rio Grande valley.
“Football was something to do until basketball season started,” he said.
He went on to spend three and a half years at ORU, then “14 wonderful years” at NSU.
Growing up in Braggs
offers baseball, love
More than 60 years after graduating from Braggs High School, Ken Hayes remembers its fight song.
In Braggs, Hayes developed his interest in sports. But not basketball – baseball.
“If you were born and raised in Braggs, Oklahoma, you played baseball just like you were eating,” Hayes said. “And that was the sport I had the most skill in.”
Hayes grew up on a farm outside of Braggs. During World War II, when he was about 10 or 11, he had a newspaper route in Camp Gruber.
“My paper route included the headquarters area and the gymnasium,” he said. “Every day I’d give the guys a paper and at the end of the week, they’d give me something — a worn-out baseball glove, a football, a basketball.”
He said he later learned that boxer Joe Louis and Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn spent time at Gruber during the war, but he never met them.
However, he did meet pretty young Jane Metzger.
“She moved to Braggs in eighth grade from Jenks, so you may say she was the new girl in town,” he said. “When I came back from the Navy on leave, I saw that girl had grown up to be a lady. We started dating, married and started a family.”
First coaching job
provides life lesson
Hayes’ first coaching job after college was at Bradley, a school that could have made Braggs look metropolitan.
“It was just a farm community, 50 kids in the top four grades, 23 boys and 27 girls,” he said. “I coached all sports: High school boys basketball, girls basketball, junior high, elementary, baseball. I drove the school bus to and from all games and I had a morning and evening bus route. I also taught five classes. I made $2,400 as a teacher, $100 for coaching all the sports and $600 a year for the school bus. That’s $3,100 a year for the wife and kids.”
Fortunately Hayes and his family lived in a house provided by the school district. Many teachers and administrators lived that way back then.
He had a great first year with “these little farm boys with athletic bodies.”
“We won two, lost one, then won 30 straight before we got upset in the playoffs,” he said. “I thought God had found a coach and put him on earth. Four seniors graduated and the next year, fat sophomores showed up and we couldn’t beat anybody. That’s when I learned how insignificant I was and how important talent is. That’s a lesson I’ll never forget.”
Since retiring in 1997, Hayes has found many ways to keep active.
One of his favorite ways is the Redneck Round Table, some guys who gather and gab at Arrowhead Mall.
“It’s 15 to 20 guys — the same guys every morning — and we come and go,” he said. “We’d start at 7:30 and stay to around 11 a.m. We just get a cup of coffee, come in and solve the world’s problems, relive our childhood. It’s a great way to start the day. It gives you a positive start on your day.”
One of the “rednecks” even wrote a poem about the Round Table, which won a state award, Hayes said.
He enjoys going to basketball games, too.
“I go to a lot of high school games, junior college games, I still see almost all the NSU home games,” Hayes said.
He said he also goes to area games coached by his former students.
“A lot of my former players are coaching,” he said. “Michael Parish at Tulsa Edison. Tony Roach is at Vinita. Danny Limes and David Dee are at Bishop Kelley. You keep your jobs by wins or losses, but the satisfaction I get is the positive impact they have on society long after they quit playing.”
Meet Ken Hayes
HOMETOWN: Braggs, Muskogee.
CAREER: Coached basketball at various colleges, high schools and universities.
EDUCATION: Braggs High School; bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northeastern State University. Graduate work at University of Oklahoma, University of Tulsa, and Oral Roberts University.
FAMILY: Wife, Jane Metzger Hayes; sons, Dr. Terry Hayes and Ken Hayes Jr., and daughter, Sherri Russell; seven grandchildren, two new great-grandchildren.
CHURCH: First Baptist Church, Muskogee.
HOBBIES: Golf, grandchildren, church “and lots of sporting events.”
HOW DID YOU BECOME AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
“After I retired, I had three siblings and many friends living in Muskogee.”
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
“Friendly people, great churches. It’s big enough for major chain stores. It has limited traffic, access to Tulsa — all the assets for growth.”
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
“Get rid of the eyesores and unoccupied homes. More jobs, safe activities for young people, better roads — all the things you could do if you had more money.”
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING IN MUSKOGEE?
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
“Golf, grandchildren, Redneck Round Table, grandkids and lots of basketball games.”
WHAT OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE?
“Too many to mention. Dr. George Ladd, my Sunday school teacher, exemplifies all the things I would like to be.”
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?
“Two of my three children were born here, coaching at Bacone College.”
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?
“We have great access, north, south, east and west with our highways and turnpikes.”