PONCA, Neb. (KCAU) – When Bob Hayes talks, players listen.

“You gotta listen to him, he’s the man,” Ponca senior Sam Ehlers said.

And rightfully so. Bob begain coaching at Ponca in 1984 as an assistant in football, basketball, and head of girls track, before taking the reigns of boys basketball for 17 years. Championing the program to 12 regular season conference championships and its first ever State title in 2007.

“We’ve tried to always develop a culture,” Ponca girls basketball head coach Bob Hayes said. “We were successful with the boys, establishing a culture of family. The parents bought into it, the kids bought into it and it’s evolved.”

And Bob has spread it to girls basketball in recent years. The team finished as State runners up in 2020 and 2021, but are leaving no doubt this season with a roaring 17-1 start.

“They’re playing for each other and they’re really pulling for each other,” Hayes said.

“We play a lot of big games, a lot of high intensity games and him just coming in showing how us how proud he is of us is just a great feeling,” Ponca senior Gracen Evans said. “We don’t just do it for ourselves, we do it for our coaches.”

When you’re a part of so many teams, patience is a virtue. Something Bob has learned over the years. But it’s not just the long-time coach who carries a passion for Ponca, it’s in the Hayes’ name itself. His wife Kristie has kept roughly 1700 scorebooks for Ponca basketball, missing only four games. An influence feeding into Bob’s impact on Ponca athletes, and teachers, both old and new.

“We got our 500th win a few weeks ago and I got a card from my kindergarten teacher and I was like oh my god,” Hayes said. “She’s 90-something years old and sent me a card and that really touched me.”

“Coach Poulosky our boys coach, he’s been coached by Hayes,” Evans said. “One of our assistant coaches has been coached by Hayes. Everything that he gives is not just on the basketball court, it’s also in life. So every little thing that he teaches us is just a great thing.”

Seeing former players return is special. But knowing that he’s played a large part in their lives, is a joy that Bob has cherished. So what’s kept him coming back? Well the answer is simple.

“The kids, their energy keeps you young I think,” Hayes said. “The biggest thing I want those kids to know is that I care about them.”

“He’s done so much for this school, for this community,” Ehlers said. “I think all the teams that have gone through him have gained so much. He works on and off the court. Coming from him I want to be a coach someday.”

And coming up on his 40th year, Hayes says retirement isn’t checking into the game yet. Continuing to draw up new plays, and new lessons, for Ponca posterity.

“I’ve had some of my peers step away and said how’d you know and they said you’ll know and they said it won’t be fun anymore. So far it’s still fun,” Hayes said.