The seven national championship banners hanging around the old gym they called “the sweat box” told part of the story.
But the crowd of about 400 that filled the University of Texas at Arlington practice gym on Wednesday to say farewell to Jim Hayes, coach of the university’s Movin’ Mavs wheelchair basketball team, knew there was more to his saga than a final score or a winning season.
The coach, 58, came to campus as a student after being paralyzed in an accident on his 18th birthday and spent his entire professional career there after graduation. Yet Hayes, who died on Saturday after a blood clot cut off circulation to his intestines, had an international reputation. “He didn’t let his disability define him,” said James Spaniolo, UT-Arlington president. “Today we all mourn his passing, but we will never forget Jim Hayes at UT-Arlington. He will always be a part of our legacy.”
The Fort Worth native’s casket lay at the east end of the gym. Photos of Hayes in action on the court and of him meeting President Clinton were on display. So were the shredded gloves he wore when he pushed his wheelchair the 205 miles between Austin and Arlington.
Music from one of Hayes’ favorite bands, Pink Floyd, played as visitors walked and rolled past. The current Movin’ Mavs team sat up front in their chairs wearing blue UT-Arlington neckties. Kent Gardner, former vice president for student affairs, grinned as he recalled Hayes saying he’d like to go to the White House in 1993 after winning a national championship. After all, other championship teams got the tour.
“He said it would be really neat if we could meet the president of the United States,” said Gardner, who had been skeptical of Hayes’ ability to persuade the leader of the free world to stop and talk wheelchair basketball. “About a week later I started getting phone calls from Secret Service agents about background checks.”
What they said:
Paul Schulte 29, Movin’ Mavs All American and 2002 team MVP:
“When I left his office I was much more concerned about obtaining my first syllabus than I was making free throws.” said Schulte, a now-married mechanical engineer who designs wheelchairs in Bradenton, Fla. “Because of coach and this university, I was able to pursue the degree of my choice. “I think one of the victories he was most proud of was his own independence. He wanted that for each of us.”
Chhay Mak, 35, was one of the first five wheelchair basketball players to win a UT-Arlington athletic scholarship. He recalled practicing in the then-un-airconditioned gym:
“Jim Hayes saw your talent even if you didn’t know it. The said thing about today is, I don’t know if he knows how much I appreciate him.”
Julie Duncan coaches wheelchair basketball in Lexington, Ky. She and Hayes conducted a long-distance romance after meeting at a game about four years ago. She said they’d talked about marriage, but Duncan said Hayes wasn’t leaving the Movin’ Mavs to make it happen. “This was the ideal place for it to be,” she said, nodding toward the casket and the practice gym. “I knew this would be the only way he’d leave.”
Olivia Acosta, receptionist and volunteer coordinator for Helping Restore Ability, an Arlington nonprofit. She uses a wheelchair and met Hayes when she was sophomore at Lamar High School when he came to the school to teach her and five other students with disabilities a P.E. class.
“When I was in high school I was impressed by him. He was about the first adult person that I’d seen in a wheelchair that had gone to college, that had a job. Since I met him, I’ve called him Mr. Hayes. I still call him Mr. Hayes. It’s just out of respect.”
The scrawled note on the board describing the Movin’ Mavs 30-minute warmup drill:
“To Coach Hayes, winning at life 30 minutes at a time! (or less!) D.G.