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Photos by Sarah Finnegan.
Hoover High School head cross-country and track and field coach Devon Hind has guided his program to 27 state titles since 2003.
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Cross-country and track-and-field team trophies line a hallway at Hoover High School. Head coach Devon Hind constructed the project nearly 10 years ago as a way to commemorate and motivate.
When Hoover High School assistant cross-country coach Leslie Pair visits her parents’ Bluff Park home, she can count on finding a wedding invitation tacked to their refrigerator.
The couples who mail them, she said, share a common bond.
“It’s always one of his old athletes,” Pair said of her father, Devon Hind.
Hind is in his 14th year as the head cross-country and track and field coach at Hoover High School, where he has guided the Buccaneers to 27 state titles since 2003. That was the year he took over for longtime coach Mary Birdwell.
But as indicated by the invitations posted on his fridge, Hind’s impact is not limited to grass courses and rubber tracks.
According to Hoover runners from past and present, the investment that Hind makes in his athletes creates a lasting impact — one that positions them for annual success in the field of competition and sustained success in the race of life.
“He’s been like my dad in a big way, a second father,” said Pat McGregor, a 2009 Hoover graduate who now coaches cross-country and track and field as an assistant at Samford University. “He’s just a guy who’s there to love you and help you no matter what.”
Hind first learned what it meant to be a good coach through the simple act of observation.
As a prep cross-country runner at Avondale High School in Auburn Hills, Michigan, he witnessed a teacher with little knowledge of the sport turn his team into a state champion.
Hind, who began running in 10th grade, said he and his teammates showed up to their first cross-country meet in gym shorts and white T-shirts — far from typical race-day attire.
But that didn’t stop them.
“We didn’t know what we were doing when I was in high school,” Hind said. “We didn’t even have a uniform, and we became state champions and one of the most dominant teams ever in the history of the state of Michigan.”
Hind said Avondale won every meet it entered during his 12th-grade season, and other teams couldn’t even come close.
The success, he said, began with his coach.
“He just invested in his kids and loved us, and we ran our guts out for him,” Hind said.
The anecdote underscores a key concept — one that Hind has carried with him for the last 40 years. A team’s success, he said, hinges upon a healthy coach-athlete relationship.
Hind, accordingly, places priority on establishing that connection.
“If you like the coach, you will do anything you can for him, so I’ve remembered that in my coaching career,” Hind said.
A winding path
It’s a career that has come full circle.
Hind was originally hired by Bob Finley as Berry High School’s cross-country coach in 1978 per the recommendation of John Mitchell, a coach at the University of Alabama.
Hind was an All-Southeastern Conference performer for the Crimson Tide in the mid-1970s. Under Mitchell, he set a school record in the 3K steeplechase and clocked a 4 minute, 3 second personal-best time in the mile.
“Anything distance they needed, I did,” said Hind, who started his collegiate career at Michigan State before transferring to Alabama via community college.
Hind spent three years coaching and teaching physical education at Berry, but he said he didn’t get selected for tenure after year three.
As a result, his stint at the school came to a sudden end.
“When that happened, I was determined nobody was ever going to fire me again,” Hind said. “So I started my own lawn service company.”
Hind cut grass and provided other household services full-time for the next 16 years, from 1981 to 1997. He said his company, Dial a Handyman, developed a peak clientele of 750 customers.
It wasn’t until 1993 that Hind re-entered the coaching ranks. At the time, he had a daughter who ran on the Simmons Middle School cross-country team, which was in need of a coach.
Hind jumped at the opportunity and directed the Simmons cross-country program on a volunteer basis for the next three years. He eventually accepted a full-time teaching and coaching position at the school, where he taught science from 1996 to 2003.
For six of those seven years, he continued to manage Dial a Handyman on top of his other responsibilities.
“I was very, very happy at Simmons,” Hind said. “I felt like I really had an impact on kids. I felt fulfilled.”
But when Birdwell retired from Hoover in 2003, Hind interviewed for the opening and got it. He’s been teaching health and coaching the Bucs ever since.
“It took me a long time to get back there,” said Hind, who waited 22 years for a second chance to return to the program where his coaching career began.
Hind’s tenure at Hoover has been marked by maps — blue maps, to be exact.
The Alabama-shaped plaques outlined in blue are distributed at the end of each season to teams who win state titles.
In one of Hoover High’s hallways, the cross-country and track and field maps are on display for all to see, lining a shelved wall like books at a library.
Since Hind took over 13 years ago, the Hoover boys have captured 14 state victories; the girls have claimed 13.
The number of individual champions is almost too many to count, but they are there too, immortalized on Hind’s version of a wall of fame.
Every individual state victor in school history — dating to 1968 when Hoover was known as Berry — has a plaque with his or her picture hung on the wall.
Hind said he first constructed the perpetually expanding project nearly 10 years ago. Whenever another Buc wins state, they get their own slice of history. “It’s a pretty good motivating tool,” Hind said.
Hind also writes letters to his cross-country team after each meet, recapping its performance with analysis and encouragement. A collection of those letters was published in 2014 in a book titled “Run For Your Life.”
Much of Hind’s coaching success, in fact, can be boiled down to his knack for inspiring athletes.
“He reminds us that we can do things that haven’t been done before,” said Hoover junior Sydney Steely, an All-State performer in cross-country and track. “He just has a way of motivating anyone and making them believe that they can do whatever it is he thinks they can do.”
More often than not, Hind’s belief in his athletes exceeds their own. He holds them to his standard — a standard that may seem high, but one he knows they are capable of reaching.
“It’s the same in the classroom or in life. You set the bar high, and people will rise to it,” Hind said. “You set the bar low; they rise to that, too. Why not set it high?”
The explanation is meant more like a statement than a question.
Or maybe it’s an invitation.
If accepted, one day it might just be returned.
“To have them come back at the end of their careers — sometimes it’s a couple years after they left — and they will send me a letter of thanks to tell me how much running changed them and their life,” Hind said. “That’s what is fulfilling.”