Aside from his day jobs, Conway’s Ron Hill has spent 44 years in a labor of love.
For more than four decades, he has voluntarily coached youth and amateur sports teams.
“You name it, I’ve coached it except swimming,” he said. “I coached one soccer game, and we won. It takes good kids to overcome coaching sometimes.”
At Wednesday’s meeting of the Conway Kiwanis Club, state Sen. Jason Rapert surprised Hill with a Conway community service award and a citation from the state. The monthly Conway award, selected by a committee of community leaders, is designed to recognize individuals who often perform longstanding acts of service out of the limelight.
“It’s people above self,” said Rapert.
Hill, fighting back tears, accepted the award in front a packed meeting room, one in which family, friends and fellow Kiwanians made a point to attend even though the program was a basic business meeting.
A person is not around Hill very long before his passion for helping and teaching youngsters. You can see it in his face, hear it in his voice.
He’s coached several members of the Kiwanis Club as well as other community leaders and members of other civic organizations. He’s coached his son-in-law. His coaching has transcended cultural and racial lines. He has coached, mentored and influenced thousands.
“It’s a blessing to be around kids and their families and learning from them is priceless,” he said.
He began coaching youth teams with a fraternity brother in college and he was hooked.
“It’s fun, just to be around kids and their families is truly amazing. You see them grow up; you see them change. Just to be around them is unreal how the feeling is. It’s so much fun to meet the kids and meet the parents.
“I got a call the other day from someone I coached who was thinking about buying a truck and he wanted my thoughts because he knew I had been in the car business. Just watching them grow up and being able to still help them, it’s just fun.”
And all the stories haven’t been success stories.
“I’ve coached a kid who has a Super Bowl ring (Greg Lasker); I’ve coached kids who’ve been in prison,” he said. “I’ve seen the good and the bad.”
And he’s learned.
“Kids want discipline; that’s been true through the years,” he said. “They want you to love them. They want you to set boundaries. Then, they’ll walk to the edge of them.
“I’ve coached kids who other elementary school kids were afraid of them. The teachers were afraid of them. But they never got out of line for me. They did everything asked of them.”
“I don’t put up with moms and dads getting on their kids,” he said. “I explain things right off the bat. I tell them to go over and sit in a lawn chair and watch. I don’t yell at them and I don’t want them to. When they’re on the field, they’re mine.
“And I’ve had people like Mike Isom (former UCA coach) and Ron Calcagni (former Razorback quarterback who is now as coach) as volunteer assistant coaches, but I don’t allow anyone to directly coach their own child. I didn’t directly coach mine. But coaching allowed me to still be part of their lives. Their friends would come up and hug me and then they could also hug me. I never went through that when I would have to drop my kids off at school a block away because they wouldn’t want to be seen with me.
“But you know, I coach alongside a bunch of coaches in peewee football who are just as deserving of this as I am. It’s about the kids — we all know that — and it makes it fun.”
And his service doesn’t stop with the young.
Hill is responsible for the monumental-like signs on I-40 (eastbound and westbound), with the logos of all the local civic clubs, welcoming people to Conway,
“He’s created the front door to Conway on I-40,” said Rapert.
Hill remembers recently attending the funeral of Gary Lasker, who devoted years to coaching, mentoring and helping youngsters.
“I think I was the most hugged man there,” he said. “To experience things like that — that’s the reward. That’s the blessing. That makes it fun.”