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Hailey built career on old-school values / February 26, 2009
By Tucker McLaughlin Jr.
News & Record staff

Mike Hailey always held old school values, on and off the basketball court.
The Halifax County native, who will be wrapping up a 40-year career as an educator and coach in North Carolina and Virginia, is looking forward to retirement this spring. Hailey recently ended a very successful 10-year run as the boys' basketball coach at Halifax County Middle School and will conclude his public school career at the end of the academic year.
Hailey, 62 in July, built more than a one or two-year stint of success in the Lion gym. Hailey established a solid program, which has had considerable influence for young basketball hopefuls across Halifax County and South Boston.
Hailey is not into unnecessary flash, or tolerating 'characters'. His calling card has been solid, unselfish, fundamentally sound team basketball.
Most of his kids have been coachable while playing at the middle school level.
The basic idea, Hailey noted, was to establish the idea that his players paid their dues as seventh graders, to move up and succeed as eighth graders, before moving on to the high school level.
"Guys that you didn't quite trust the year before, the next year, you had to trust them and they usually delivered," said Hailey.
Hailey said he never really had a true mentor to help him prepare for his prep coaching career.
"In the 40 years I've coached, and I guess I've said it to a lot of different people, that I was unfortunate in the fact that I never got a chance to work with somebody that had been ultra-successful, football, basketball, any particular sport I was working with … that I was able to mentor under, and to learn a lot from that person.
"All of my knowledge has been sort of a trial and error kind of deal," said Hailey. "It makes for some tough years, and some tough games, because you made a bad move. And you didn't know it, until you did it, and then you say, well, I ain't never doing that again."
Nevertheless, Hailey played at Elon for Bill Miller, a name some old-timers here at Halifax County will remember. Miller was a terrific fundamental coach, with a tough personality.
Hailey also played for future Halifax County/South Boston Sports Hall of Famer Hank Hamrick in the ninth grade. Nevertheless, Hamrick had moved on by the time Hailey reached the varsity level. Hailey later played at HCHS for former Wake Forest product Dave Wiedeman, who had been a part of the great Deacon teams in the early 1960s. HCHS was Wiedeman's first prep coaching stop.
Hailey was born and raised in Halifax County. He graduated from Halifax County High School in 1965, and earned an undergraduate degree from Elon College, now Elon University, in 1969.
He started his teaching career in Rockingham County, N.C., that same year after leaving college. He had a 30-year stint before returning home in 1999-2000. Hailey subsequently had a 10-year run, coaching and teaching at the Halifax County Middle School.
Hailey had a very successful overall run, both here and in the Tar Heel state.
His first job involved helping with varsity and jayvee sports at a 1-A school in Stoneville, N.C., featuring a small-town atmosphere that generated fond memories.
"I was there eight years. The second half of those eight years, we weren't even in a conference, because everybody else in the county had consolidated into a new high school, which I eventually ended up at. And, probably the happiest years of my coaching life were there, because the kids were all local. Most of them could walk to school," recalled Hailey. "Very much oriented to the town, everybody knew everybody. All the kids were well supported by their parents and their relatives. You virtually knew everybody in the school."
Hailey was fortunate to have fine athletes in basketball and football. He had a couple of football teams ranked in the state, even though the school was not part of a conference.
From there, Hailey moved on to Rockingham, where he stayed 13 years. He coached three varsity sports, almost the entire time he was there. He had stints as the head varsity football and basketball coach, and also coached golf almost his entire time there. Hailey also coached volleyball for several seasons.
Hailey won a conference title at Rockingham in basketball.
From there, Hailey moved to a middle school in Rockingham County, where he won several conference titles and had an undefeated team.
At Rockingham, Hailey's teams had to contend with strong opposition, including Reidsville, Morehead HS in Eden, N.C., and other quality prep programs at what is now McMichael HS.
"My experiences have been really, really nice, but I've never really had one of those teams that was just awesomely talented, like some of these folks happen to get," said Hailey. "I had some outstanding players."
One of Hailey's best players was John Settle, recruited by several ACC schools. Settle ended up at Appalachian State, playing running back. Settle, now the running backs' coach at Wisconsin, was a gifted athlete and one of the strongest players Hailey ever had. Settle had a four-year, record-breaking career in the college ranks, and later made the NFL, where he had a Pro Bowl appearance one year. He finished his career with the Redskins.
Hailey coached a handful of outstanding athletes in the career, with several sparkling seasons at Rockingham.
Hailey later reconnected with his wife, Loretta, and returned to HCMS.
He has thoroughly enjoyed his stint mentoring young Lion athletes.
"I got to work in the school that I attended (the former Halifax County High School). I got to work on a level that was very rewarding to me on a different level, other than Ws and Ls, because I'd had enough of that.
"I coached varsity sports for 20 years," said Hailey. "The pressure to do well and win, no matter what your situation is, is very, very great. Those people that read the newspapers and keep up with it don't care what your problems are. They just want to know why you're not winning," said Hailey.
"They're not taking into account that you're basically taking what comes to you, and you're either going to win with it, or lose with it," said Hailey.
At HCMS, Hailey enjoyed a monumental run, helping fill the trophy case for the Lions on an annual basis.
"We've won or shared the conference championship (in basketball) every year but one here. We've either won it outright, or we were co-champs in the regular season.
"And we've played in the conference championship game in the tournament every year but this year," said Hailey, whose last team lost in the Southside district semifinals.
"I don't think I could have ended my career, or enjoyed it any more on any level, than I have here. I've been real lucky to get decent kids.
"I've been fortunate that we've played on a level that I think was appropriate for this area. I know I hear a lot of whining and crying about; we don't do anything over here, because we're playing inferior talent. But I don't agree with that.
"We're probably playing on a level we belong in, as opposed to the high school playing in a level they don't belong in," said Hailey.
His point is that Halifax County High School, since its inception from consolidation of the old county high schools, has produced only two state champion teams in its history, although some other teams on both the girls' and boys' side have had very successful playoff runs. (The Comet state champions include the 1984 varsity baseball and 1991 varsity football teams).
Hailey's basic point is the Comet program should be competing at a varsity level closer to where the Middle School is now. Hailey points out that some of the surrounding Group AA programs, have won or played for state titles in recent seasons.
"It's not a good fit for us (at the current level at HCHS, in the Group AAA, Northwest Region). And even if we have a good year in this area, and we go to the state playoffs, once we reach the level where we're playing the Northern counties, or the Northern cities of Virginia, or the coastal cities of Virginia, it's over for us. We cannot compete with those city kids," argues Hailey.
"It's got nothing to do with how bad they want to compete.
"It's got everything to do with the fact that the resources of being able to play a sport year-round is not available to our kids, like it is to those other kids. The kid that lives in the city that can walk two blocks to play basketball all day, and we've got a kid that lives 20 miles out in the county, well, he's not going to come to town to shoot ball with our city kids every day," said Hailey.
"And when I played here, it was the same way. We had kids in my P.E. classes and my classes that were big and strong and fast, and didn't play," said Hailey.
Hailey's formula for success coaching the Lions was not complicated.
"I had kids that, for the most part, were extremely coachable … I think another part of it was, especially the first five years I was here, our kids were better prepared. We spent a lot of time with them," said Hailey. The Lion coach always took basketball very seriously, with plenty of practice for players at this impressionable level.
However, in recent seasons, some of the other Group AA schools, like Russell, have made strides to catch up with the Lions. Park View won the boys' title this winter. Hailey now sees more equality on the talent level across the Southside district, particularly in HCMS' division.
Hailey, meanwhile, seems comfortable with his body of work.
It's been a rewarding deal.
"It was great to take a kid from point A and take him to point B, at the end of his high school life, and see how far you could get him, or take him, and not just on an athletic level, but as a person," said Hailey.
"We've probably got more out of our kids here in ten years than we probably deserve," said Hailey. "They were very coachable, and they melded well together. It was a team-first kind of deal, for the most part."

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