For seven of the past eight summers, Greg Hayes has enjoyed the best of his two worlds. That is, the spiritual world and the sports world.
Hayes, 30, in his fourth season as boys basketball coach at Canyon High, spends his summers coaching Athletes in Action teams that tour the world. It allows the former assistant at UCLA to combine his religious and athletic pursuits.
“It has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life,” Hayes said.
It also takes Hayes all over the globe. By his estimate, Hayes has toured more than 20 countries with AIA teams.
He went to Poland, West Germany and the Soviet Union this summer in his fourth season as coach of the AIA women’s team. Running the same system he uses at Canyon, the team won its last 10 games after opening the tour with four consecutive losses in the Soviet Union.
In Hayes’ opinion, wins and losses on an AIA tour are secondary.
“I cannot describe the feeling of hearing our national anthem played in the Soviet Union,” he said.
If it not for his involvement with AIA, Hayes might have never made it to another country--Canyon Country.
He was set to take a high school coaching position in Orange County while on tour four years ago. But when he got a call in Guam telling him he had to start his job immediately, he declined.
It left Hayes without a job upon his returning to the U.S. But it also made him available for the Canyon job.
“I wanted to coach a high school program because it’s a time you can have a tremendous impact on the kids’ lives,” Hayes said.
“I wanted to teach. At the college level, it’s a lot of recruiting. In high school, you coach and teach--period.”
His summer travels have also been a learning experience.
“It’s given me a healthier perspective on our country,” Hayes said. “When you see extreme poverty, oppression and unhappiness, it makes you realize that God really has blessed America. It makes you appreciate what we have here.
“It also reinforces the fact that basketball really is just a game.”
A game that brings Greg Hayes in touch with his two worlds--and the rest of the globe.