It was impossible from his postgame demeanor to tell if Steve Hawes had just coached a win or a loss.
A smile and upbeat attitude was the default for Hawes, who was more than a basketball coach. That’s why his death Wednesday after a battle with cancer hit the Fort Collins community so hard.
“He was an amazing coach, mentor, friend, husband, father and person. I’m just blessed to have him in my life as well as the memories with him that I will treasure forever,” said Anthony Raffaeli, who played basketball for Hawes at Poudre and graduated in May. “I’m also extremely blessed that he had the honor to hand me my diploma, because that is a huge moment in my life that I will remember forever and I wouldn’t want anyone else to share that moment with me.”
Hawes graduated from Rocky Mountain High School in 1988 and spent more than 20 years as a coach for the Poudre boys basketball program. He was the Impalas’ varsity coach from 2010-15, always manning the sidelines in a pristine suit.
FROM THE ARCHIVE: Q&A with Poudre hoops coach Steve Hawes
Wednesday night and into Thursday, as word of his death spread at the age of 46, the tributes from players, coaches and friends poured in.
“He was a great leader and motivator. One thing I noticed about him throughout four-plus years of having him as a coach was that he knew how to get the most out of every player,” said Mitchel Yokem, who played for Hawes and graduated from Poudre in May. “He has taught so many people so much about life and basketball. … The best thing for us to do at this time is carry the lessons he taught us every day and pass those lessons on.”
In his five years as head coach, his biggest win was in 2012 when eighth-seeded Poudre took down No. 1 Regis Jesuit in the second round of the state playoffs. Regis Jesuit’s coach is Ken Shaw, who coached Hawes as a player during his final two seasons at Rocky Mountain.
While a head coach always has a record attached with his name, Hawes never used that to define himself as a coach. Instead, the life lessons he taught to his players were what he cared most about.
“He had a great passion for basketball and helping young players. I think he saw beyond the wins and losses. I think he really enjoyed the beauty of the game and that’s the relationships,” Shaw said. “Whenever you saw him, you couldn’t tell whether he won them all or lost them all. He just had a great outlook. The glass was always more than half-full with Steve.”
PREVIOUSLY: Brubaker hired to coach Impalas’ boys basketball
How quickly Hawes’ health deteriorated was a shock to everyone. A lump under his armpit was the first sign of cancer, but Hawes was upbeat about treatment. Then in early July, the cancer metastasized, leaving precious time for friends and family to visit.
His death leaves a void in the basketball and Fort Collins community as a whole.
“We spent a lot of special times over the course of the years,” said Monty Alcaraz, the Fort Collins High School coach who has been friends with Hawes for nearly 30 years. “In every aspect of his life, he always just seemed so happy.”
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In their words
Community members share their thoughts on Steve Hawes
Mitchel Yokem, former player
“Coach Hawes was like a father figure to so many people. It was really awesome to see how many people he touched and influenced their lives.”
Anthony Raffaeli, former player
“He always seemed to be in a good mood and he always brought a positive attitude to everything. He was a great coach and an even better person. He changed my life.”
Will Seng, former player
“Steve Hawes changed my life. He gave me a chance and believed in me when no one else did. I would not be the man I am today without him. Not only was he my coach, but he was a good friend and an even better role model. If there was one thing all of us guys knew, it was that Hawes cared about us.”
Kendall Wilson, Poudre athletic director
“He has been a pillar of Poudre hoops for 23 years. Year in and year out, he poured his heart and soul into Poudre basketball, the athletes that he worked with and coaches he worked alongside. He was more than a coach. He was a mentor, leader, inspiration and friend. Steve’s impact reaches far beyond the court. The Poudre community has a lot of love and respect for him. Our sincerest condolences to his family.”
Jeff Brubaker, current Poudre boys basketball coach
“Hawes was an incredible friend to me and many, many others. Myself and the coaching staff will do our best to continue to coach with passion and build lifelong relationships just like coach Hawes did.”
Monty Alcaraz, Fort Collins boys basketball coach
“Probably the best time was maybe not the game, but after the game. Even when we weren’t playing each other, we would call each other after every game when we were on the bus ride home. It seemed like we talked after every game. We would talk for hours. Looking back on it, that’s a heck of a lot more special than the basketball itself.”
Matt Johannsen, Fossil Ridge boys basketball coach
“I just always loved the way he treated kids. There were just so many great things that he did for the kids and the Poudre community. I just have so much respect for him.”
Ken Shaw, current coach at Regis Jesuit, coached Hawes at Rocky Mountain
“He was one of my favorite people of all those I’ve encountered through athletics. My first two years at Rocky, Steve was on my team, so I got to know him right off the bat when I got to Fort Collins. He’ll be deeply missed.”
Brad Beauprez, Poudre teacher
“Many of his former players became friends over the years and called, texted or stopped by to see him as recently as Wednesday. This is evidence for the impact Steve had on the athletes he coached; I witnessed recent graduates of Poudre as well as players from two decades ago who are now fathers and members of the community stop by to pay their respect to him.
“Steve had a profound influence on many adults at Poudre as well. I can speak from firsthand experience how Steve was able to affect how I think and live life, and I know there are numerous other teachers, coaches and administrators at Poudre who would echo the same sentiments. He was a charismatic, intelligent, caring, and a fun man and I’m confident that many current and former Impalas will carry Steve’s wisdom and sayings forward in their day-to-day lives.”
Craig Woodall, Rocky Mountain principal
“It has been an honor to have known Steve since I moved to the state in 1998. Steve had a tremendous impact on me and countless other coaches and players in Fort Collins. Steve was both incredibly honest and compassionate. He was as authentic a man as I have ever met. I will miss our conversations about coaching and about life. Many of us will need to find a way to cope with this devastating loss and to fill the void left by this incredibly positive and influential man.”