ABILENE, TX (KRBC)- The 2016 Summer Olympic games kick off next week and a former Abilene Christian University coach has ties to the world’s largest sporting event.
Former Head Coach for Track and Field, Don Hood, is known around the Big Country for breaking records while recruiting the best athletes in the world and bringing them to Abilene.
“Every time I come here, I have memories, and I see some of those vaults and some of those throws and some of those races.. I remember so well,” says Hood. “We could fill the stadium up when we were setting world records.”
Don Hood guided Abilene Christian University to eight NCAA Division II titles and one NAIA championship during his 11 seasons as head coach. His 1984 Abilene Christian Men’s team is considered the greatest in Division II history.
“Athletics is more than just fun and games. It’s learning about success and failure and how to overcome defeat and deal with all the obstacles,” says Hood.
Even though 28 years have passed since Hood was head coach for ACU, the mark he made at Elmer Gray Stadium is still remembered today.
“Abilene Christian University was known as ‘Pole Vault University’ to some people in the county because we had so many world record holders and American record holders starting with Billy Olsen, who broke the world record about 8 times,” says Hood.
Hood is best known for two things, producing great teams and great vaulters. He credits his success to his Christian faith.
“We made an effort to have all of our track boys and girls active in church,” says Hood.
The bond he had with his athletes was like no other.
“One of my vaulters was having a bad day and he was just messing around and throwing his poles down and I said ‘Oaky if you don’t plant that pole this time and go up, you’re walking home,’ and he made it,” says Hood.
While the memories of coaching, setting world records and attending the Olympic games are still vivid, they won’t be for long. In 2014, Hood was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
While Coach Hood still does remember, he enjoys talking about the 16 Olympians he coached, which gave him the opportunity to travel the world.
“Brazil, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, I got to go to all those places because of all the great vaulters I had,” says Hood.
While attending the games, Hood helped recruit athletes from third-world countries who might not have otherwise had a college career.
“Walking toward me was this big giant who weighed about 300 pounds, big beard and I stopped him and I said what’s your name? and he said Shata and I said your a shot putter right? and he said yes and I said how would you like to come to America for 4 years paid vacation,” Hood recalls.
While the disease has taken away several memories, it hasn’t taken away all of them.
“I’ll just always be thankful for a school like Abilene Christian University that provides opportunities for so many young boys and girls,” he said.
In October of 2015, Hood’s sons had a reunion with all of his past athletes to reminisce on the good times. It was chance to visit with him before he loses his long term memory for good.