Coach Joe Hester passed away April 21 in Livingston, Texas after suffering several small strokes beginning March 13 according to his wife Barbara. He was 85.
If there was ever anyone who earned the term “guru” it was Hester. A Pole Vaulting Guru who taught himself the sport before guiding young men and women to achieve and surpass their goals in the pit while passing on bits of wisdom they would take with them for the rest of their lives.
Hester took to pole vaulting after a visit with former Orangefield AD Ed Peveto. Peveto was a competitor and fan of track and field and he was looking for a pole vault coach because he felt the Bobcats could pick up points there during track meets. Hester took the job and obviously took it seriously watching tapes and studying the best vaulters in the world like Sergey Bubka, pictured below with Wayne Guidry and Jacob Davis.
From 1989-2000 Hester brought at least one Bobcat vaulter to the State Meet. SEVEN times he brought two. Hester and his Bobcat vaulters brought home NINE gold medals, five silvers, and a bronze. FIVE times his vaulters set new 3A records at State.
And that’s just at Orangefield. During the summer months Joe took his vaulters all around the country competing and bringing home trunk loads of hardware. A familiar site around the track was Hester’s extra long Lincoln Continental so that he could hang the poles down the side of it as they traveled. It was known as the Pole Mobile.
While he was at Orangefield he also trained two vaulters from Louisiana who won five state championships between them from 1993-96.
After Coach Hester left Orangefield he continued to develop vaulters from Coldspring and most recently Livingston where he took a female vaulter Montana Piper to the State Meet in 2019, 30 years after taking Guidry to Austin for the first time in 1989.
I got in touch with his All-Americans from Orangefield and offered them a chance to talk about their coach.
WAYNE GUIDRY (4X State Champ, University of Texas)
Most people think of coach Hester as a pole vaulting coach. His vaulters see him as a great mentor who prepared them for life. Joe Hester was much more than a pole vaulting coach, he was a man that changed the course of people’s life in a positive manner.
If you had the privilege of vaulting under Coach Joe Hester during his 33 plus years of coaching the pole vault, consider yourself incredibly lucky. Few people have the opportunity to work under a coach and mentor that was so driven, dedicated to excellence, refused to be told no and yet had the heart that would draw a bunch of teenagers to give up their summers to join him at the pole vault pit on a daily basis.
Something many people may not know about Coach Hester is that he was a very classy individual. From his Lincoln Continental to the way he walked, he just had a sense of class to him. However, he also had this mindset that he could do anything in this world, he just needed a role of athletic tape and he could patch any problem up this world threw at him.
A special characteristic that Coach Hester had was the ability to be creative in the midst of conflict. With every obstacle, he always had a solution. My favorite story was a summer during one of my junior high years. Coach realized that the UIL track season was too short and that we needed to jump more. Unfortunately, the school wouldn’t leave the pits out over the summer. Coach ended up hauling at least 50 tires to my backyard. We then placed several mattresses on top of them and he had a custom tarp made to cover this homemade cushion so I could vault on it. We spent that summer jumping in my backyard using sewer pipes as standards.
During the summer months we would travel to Houston on a weekly basis for track meets. Our means of travel was his old Lincold Continental. In order to transport the poles, he purchased a 17’ sewer line and attached it to the side of his car. We would then place the poles inside of the sewer pipe, fill the car with kids and we would burn up the Texas highways.
As a young teenager, life was all about being cool. I have to admit that I did struggle with traveling through the state of Texas with that cannon taped to the side of his car. However, my young ego was never more devastated than the day we pulled into Butler stadium in Houston Texas and the poles had slid to the back of the canister. The canister was so long that we couldn’t reach the poles in order to take them out. Of course Coach Hester had a solution. He jumped in the car and hit the gas. After about 10 yards he would then slam on the brakes in order to jolt the poles to the front of the canister. Of course one attempt wasn’t enough. He repeated this multiple times as we were gaining an audience from everyone in the parking lot.
Those summer trips provided an opportunity for many of us who would probably have never left the confines of Southeast Texas if it wasn’t for Coach Hester volunteering his summers to invest in our lives.
Best pole vaulting coach in the nation? Most likely. However, what sticks out to his former vaulters more than the gold medals and records we set was the imprint he had on our lives as young men trying to navigate ourselves into manhood. We would spend hours at the pit perfecting our technique. He would always find time to give us incredible lessons about life and how to approach our journey as young christian men. Looking back to my college years, I now see that he had fully prepared me for the challenges that laid before me. Some of his advice: Find the library and make it your second home; leave the girls alone until you receive your diploma; find a place of worship; stay focused.
In our culture we often attribute success with hard work. The harder you work the more success you will have. For many years, I attributed my success to the hard work I had put in as a young athlete. What I failed to realize is the unique opportunity I had to work under such an amazing coach. I see people every day who are disciplined and work hard, yet have nominal success. Hester’s vaulters all had great work ethics and were very disciplined. What separated us from others was the unique opportunity to work under such a visionary leader that just wouldn’t take no for an answer.
JACOB DAVIS (3X State Champ, University of Texas record holder at 19-2.25)
What a long conversation I have had over the years with such a great man, Coach Joe Hester. He has impacted so many people’s lives over his entire career and left such a great legacy, he will be missed. It was an amazing journey Coach, you ran the race and did it very well!
Davis also posted a video about his time with Coach Hester.
JONATHON HENLEY (2X Silver, University of Nebraska)
I wouldn’t be the man I am today without Coach Hester. He took us from a very early age, 7th grade for me, and told us if we committed to him he would commit to us. He took me and many others from jumping over a ditch day one, to competing at the Junior Olympic and National level with the worlds best. He would often tell us that he was “turning boys into men”. At an early age he gave us responsibility and held us accountable. He gave us goals, then told us how to meet and exceed those goals. He coached us mentally as much as he did physically, and many of us went on to break several local, state, national, and even world records. The lessons he taught me, I still use today in work and personal life, and I pass them down to my kids as they start to mature and compete in sports. It could be pole vaulting or tennis, if you dedicate yourself and out work your competition, you will always be successful.
ERIC ESHBACH (2X State Champ, National HS Record of 18-2.25 in 1999, University of Nebraska record holder)
Track and Field and sports in general never were my main passion. My main passion is the outdoors. Always has been…..Its just the way I am wired. Honestly, big deer is one of the reasons I wanted to go to college in the Midwest. Just this morning, my boy Easton successfully harvested a big Nebraska turkey. I feel really blessed to be able to share that passion with him. This past Saturday, he had his first baseball game of the year. His first at bat was a triple to the fence, his second at bat….a double. As soon as that game was over it was off to a soccer game where he scored 3 goals. Then he was off to my beautiful daughter’s softball game, which resembles herding cats but is adorable to watch. LIFE IS GOOD. I have a wonderful wife, 2 amazing kids, a nice house, a good job…..LIFE IS GOOD.
BUT…..Why is life good? There are many contributing factors that have put me to where I am in life today but there is one particular individual that is a huge piece of that puzzle…….
My parents moved from Orangefield to a place on the water on the north side of Sam Rayburn between Broaddus and Pineland. Every year when the kids are done with sports for the summer we fly to Houston and head to the lake house for a week. Every year I think we should make a detour to Livingston on the way there and have lunch with a special person. But…..every year I don’t bring it up because there is my family with me and its vacation time and we are just ready to get to the lake. We have that first afternoon to go swimming, fishing, let the kids ride the side by side. The funny thing is that of all these trips year after year I can not put my finger on any specific memory from that first afternoon.
Last Monday for some reason I will never know, I found myself thinking about that special someone in Livingston. I made up my mind that day that when we fly into Houston in July we were going to stop in Livingston for lunch and meet up with that man. My kids were going to meet this person that has had so much influence on mine and so many others life. Why I made that decision that Monday of last week I will never know but on Wednesday he was gone. Like I said before, I can’t remember any specific event from those first day afternoons at the lake, but I can assure you I would have the memory of that lunch, a conversation, and my kids meeting the legendary Coach Joe Hester.
I talked before about how life was good. I have spent a lot of time the last few days reflecting on life. If there were no Joe Hester, I would have never been a Pole Vaulter. If I were never a Pole Vaulter, I would not have attended the University of Nebraska on a track and field scholarship. If I had not attended the University of Nebraska, I would have never changed my major. If I hadn’t changed my major, I wouldn’t have sat down in the very first class of that new major next to my future wife. If I hadn’t sat down next to my future wife that day I wouldn’t have either of my wonderful children. The list of would not’s seriously is endless.
Jacob and Toby talked recently about all the vaulters in Orangefield looking like airplanes lined up on the runway waiting to take off. What I remember most about that is that after each jump coach Hester gave the same attention to the 7th, 8th, 9th grader that he did to his junior or senior superstar. He dedicated sooooo much of his life to those kids. Every afternoon, every weekday, countless Saturdays, Summers, etc….He drug kids all over the country. His dedication to each and every kid in his program was amazing. It did not matter to Joe Hester who that kid was…..If that kid gave him the time to be on his runway, he gave them everything he had in return.
I don’t remember a single time coach ever raised his voice. I don’t remember ever hearing a curse word come from his mouth. All I remember is constant positivity and instilling beliefs in his athletes that they could accomplish anything they wanted if they would continue to push for it. He always said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” That is the approach he has with his vaulters. He just kept chipping away day after day after day, month after month, year after year. He had more patience than possibly any individual I have ever met.
Coach, I hope you are enjoying your time with The Big Man Upstairs. The words thank you, seriously do not seem to fit, but its all we have. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. The world is definitely a better place because you were in it. I have no idea where I would be in life without you, but I am completely satisfied with where I am at because of you. Thank you.
Funeral services for Coach Joe Hester will be held Saturday, May 1, 2021 at 2:00 p.m. in the Cochran Funeral Home Chapel in Livingston with Bro. John Taylor officiating. Interment will follow in the Restland Memorial Park Cemetery. Visitation will be held from 1:00 p.m. until the service begins at 2:00 p.m. in the funeral home. All attendees are encouraged to wear your school’s colors.
-Gary Stelly, KOGT-