Guy Hayes will readily sing the praises of the communities on the Kenai Peninsula.
“I think our Peninsula is really kid-oriented,” he said.
The businesses. The legislators. The school system. The parents. Hayes says all come together to make the Peninsula a great place to raise kids.
But, when pressed, Hayes will admit there is one thing that’s not so great about small communities — rumors, even incorrect rumors, tend to spread quickly.
So, to set the record straight, when Hayes retired as the co-head coach of the Soldotna High School softball team after the school year, the 65-year-old was not giving up a Peninsula coaching career that began over 40 years ago.
“I’m retiring from Soldotna in the spring so I can watch my grandchildren play their sports,” Hayes said. “I plan on continuing to work with them in the wintertime.
“Also, I’ll coach basketball or any other sport that’s around.”
After stepping down from Soldotna in the spring, Hayes began running into bewildered folks around town.
“Guy,” the refrain went. “We can’t believe you’re giving up coaching.”
Hayes had to explain that he needed time to watch Kelci Benson, a high-schooler, and Whitney Benson, a middle-schooler, play their sports in a packed spring schedule.
Hayes lives on the Kenai River across from the Soldotna Little League fields — which have a field called Guy and Judy Hayes Field.
Hayes lives on this particular plot because it is the closest one he could find to the fields. He loves being able to hear the sound of softball and baseball being played across the river while he’s at his house.
He’s not giving up his involvement in community sports.
Hayes said he was inspired as a coach by Jim Evenson, his basketball coach for four years at Kenai Central.
“He taught me more than books,” Hayes said. “He taught me that I can be really helpful in the community by just going out and doing it and having fun at it.
“I have a lot of fun doing this.”
After high school, Hayes went in the military for about four years before returning to the Peninsula and beginning to coach immediately.
He was in on the founding of Soldotna Little League in 1969.
“I was not an officer,” he said. “I was behind the scenes working, coaching and taking care of the fields.”
Hayes never stopped coaching, and went on to coach things he never thought he would coach.
Such as in the 1970s, when Pat Bird told Hayes that he would be helping start girls softball in Soldotna Little League.
“I told her she was nuttier than a fruitcake,” Hayes said. “Guess what I ended up doing — coaching girls softball.”
And Hayes — as coach of the Panthers battling Bird’s Tigers — dined on something other than fruitcake.
“I’ll eat my words,” he said. “It was one of the best experiences I ever had.”
Hayes always wanted softball and baseball players to have the option of playing for their high schools.
“I really wished it would have been here years ago,” he said. “We had 1,000 kids in our organization.
“The softball and baseball teams were just outstanding. We had all the kids.”
There was no softball or baseball at central Peninsula high schools until 2006, when Hayes and Dave Cleveland joined forces to start the softball program at Soldotna.
Cleveland said there’s no way the program would have lasted without Hayes.
“My knowledge base is not near as much as he knows,” Cleveland said. “He knows how to build a program and a team. I learned a lot from him.”
Hayes does not think this way. He doesn’t think of coaching as doing something for the community. He thinks of coaching as the community doing something for him.
“It’s really brought me a lot of enjoyment,” Hayes said. “You wouldn’t know what it’s meant to me, my family, my wife, my daughters and my grandchildren. They all know I really love coaching baseball, softball, basketball, whatever it is.
“I love the looks on the kids’ faces when they accomplish something they thought they couldn’t do.”
Hayes is happy to list all the people that made the Soldotna softball program possible.
First and foremost, there’s Hayes’ wife, Judy, who allowed Hayes to take time for not just the Soldotna program, but for his coaching passion for the last 40 years.
There’s a reason the field is named for Guy and Judy.
“My wife made all this possible,” Hayes said. “I could not have done any of this without her love and support for the game.
“Nobody has picked up more trash than my wife. Day in and day out, she always made sure the complex was clean.”
There’s the SoHi administration — principal Todd Syverson, assistant principal Tony Graham and athletic director Galen Brantley Jr.
“Syverson could have said he didn’t want softball in his school and this would have been finished,” Hayes said.
There’s the business community — particularly heavy hitters like Soldotna Trustworthy Hardware, Beemun’s Variety, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, Sal’s Klondike Diner and Peninsula Internal Medicine.
“If it wasn’t for the business community — soccer, football, baseball, track, you name it — we wouldn’t have been able to do it,” Hayes said.
There’s the legislators. Hayes said lawmakers, like Mike Chenault, Kurt Olson and Tom Wagoner, are always stepping up to make things happen for kids.
There are also the countless people in the community who toil to create opportunities for kids.
Cleveland, along with Hayes, did not get any money for coaching for the first five years of the program.
“That was all right,” Hayes said. “We did it because we loved it.”
At an even more out-of-sight level, that includes people like Jerry Holmgaard, the Soldotna Little League president.
When the Peninsula was pounded with snow this winter and water was lapping up on the outfield walls come spring, that water didn’t pump itself elsewhere in time for opening day.
It took work from people like Holmgaard.
Finally, there’s the kids. Hayes will never forget the kids.
“I love being around them,” Hayes said. “They’re so upbeat. They make the world go.”
Years of that kind of enthusiasm have led to insights that would fit in any coaching or teaching manual, such as: “I never talk down to them. I always get down on one knee and look up at them. Except that I’m so short, sometimes I don’t have to kneel down.”
And: “We all have bad days and good days. I try to take the bad days and turn them into good days. That’s the way you build a team.”
And: “I’ve never been around a bad kid in my life. There’s good in every kid. It’s up to you as a coach, minister or schoolteacher to find that good and bring it out. That can save a lot of kids.”
Hayes’ methods work. Ask Kaycee Munn, who will be a senior for the Stars this season. She’s known Hayes for three or four years due to playing basketball and softball.
“He knows us really well,” Munn said. “I think it’s interesting that he understands girls surprisingly well, but he does have a daughter.
“He doesn’t put us down. All he does is encourage us and build us up. He takes what we have and makes us better. He never gives up on us.”
Munn said she considers Hayes a friend, and feels comfortable talking to him about more than softball and sports. She added she definitely is looking forward to working with him in the winter.
Munn added that the team all feels the same way, although new players can be surprised by his style.
“At first they’re confused,” Munn said of the new players. “They see we’re really buddy, buddy with him and they’re thinking, ‘Isn’t this the coach? He should be yelling at us.’
“He’s not like that.”
With the force of the community behind them, Hayes and Cleveland were able to make Soldotna softball competitive quickly. The Stars have been to the small-schools state tournament in four of the past five years, with a high finish of third in 2010.
“We never won it, but the main thing is the kids had a good time,” Hayes said.
Cleveland has already granted Hayes coach emeritus status, clearing the way for Hayes to work with the players in the winter.
Hayes doesn’t currently have any other coaching gigs lined up, but he’s willing to listen to offers.
And if anybody wants to make an offer, they know where to find him on most summer days.
“I will always take care of the fields for Soldotna Little League,” Hayes said. “I will always be here cutting the grass, doing the lines.”
From the smell of the fresh-cut grass in the morning, to the excitement sparked from seeing a youngster with a knack for fielding and throwing in the afternoon, to the sight of seagulls coming to feast on the flour used to mark the baselines when the fields sit silent in the evening, Hayes has no place he’d rather be.
“I’m going to be around,” he said. “I’m going to be here. I just need to spend some time with my family.”