Longest-tenured coach ends 30th season with Hornets

AJ Taylor

It was 34 years ago when Kim Hughes began coaching the Hornet women’s gymnastics team. He broke into the Sacramento State coaching scene right out of college, but he had an in. As a freshman undergraduate at Sac State, in 1971 Hughes placed third in conference on still rings.

He began as an assistant coach, and in 1982 he landed his first head coaching job. Only three seasons later, in 1984, Hughes would bring his Hornets to a conference championship.

Now in 2011, Hughes just finished his 30th season as head coach of the Hornets. And it is that number, 30, that places Hughes above all other Hornet coaches, making him the longest-tenured coach at Sac State.

Today, Hughes is grateful for his place in the lives of Hornet athletes.

“It’s that opportunity to make a difference in some aspect of their life,” Hughes said, “I’d say that’s what motivates me.”

Hughes has even seen celebrities pass through his gym. It was 1978, Hughes, an assistant coach at the time, helped coach Kahea Bright onto the NCAA Nationals where she placed eighth on floor. After that season, Bright would go on to be a television dancer in the “80s variety show “Solid Gold.”

In his time at Sac State, Hughes has coached 25 Hornets onto regionals, and two to nationals.

The student-athletes he coaches now, like Maddie Montoya and Jasmine Lipka, admire him.

“He is a very patient coach and I really like that about him,” Montoya said. “When you’re having a tough day he’ll come over to you and say “It’s OK, calm down.’ He’ll really be understanding about it.”

This year the Hornets struggled with injuries to key gymnasts. Because of that, the freshman class had to step up and perform in these seniors’ place.

“We just didn’t know we would have this many injuries,” Hughes said. “Our freshmen did well but I feel like we could have had them more prepared to compete by season on the other events. As coaches we didn’t prepare them early enough.”

The struggles throughout the season proved to be a teaching tool for the young gymnasts.

Hughes teaches his athletes patience and confidence, and he prefers not to take a negative approach to his coaching. He prefers to build a successful team through positive reinforcement.

“Kim is a different type of coach” Lipka said. “He really cares about us as people. If you’re on the competitive lineup or you’re not, he treats everyone the same.”

It is his way of making a positive difference in student athletes’ lives.

“I’ve felt OK about using positive reinforcement and making it an enjoyable experience and trying to get people to work under that kind of style to create a winning team,” Hughes said. “I’ve never wanted to be a negative coach. I’ve kept that as my philosophy the whole time I’ve been here.”

His method is tested over many years, and has been found to produce impressive results. Winning six conference championships and two Coach of the Year awards speaks for itself, much like Hughes’ athletes.

“He’s been really patient with me through all my hard times and always very willing to work with me to get me to where I need to be, always extremely understanding and supportive,” Lipka said. “He’s helped me a ton. I couldn’t imagine college without him.”

Hughes has spent a number of years with many other organizations, and has been involved with the organization Youth Education through Sports since 1995.

But thinking into the future, about when he will retire, Hughes admits that he struggles to look beyond coaching.

“It’s been my only job since I got out of college,” Hughes said. “I try to think what I might do after I retire. I continue to struggle to think what will I do, what can I do. This is what I’ve done.”

Every year he battles for his goal of a championship. Those who are around him every day, working with him at practice, fighting for him at the meets, say that they can see the spark in his eyes.

“He always has the same excitement, the same drive, the same positive attitude every day in the gym,” Lipka said. “Even when we were having a bad day I knew I could come to bars and Kim would be there and say “How you doing Jasmine?’ Just help me to be where I need to be on my bad days.”

Hughes said if he ever decides to leave, call it quits, take everything &- his championships, awards, memories, rare skills and qualities with him — he would ask his boss to leave him only one thing: his passion for teaching.

“Nothing motivates me as much as teaching,” Hughes said.

You can reach AJ Taylor at [email protected]