March 7th, 2014

Hyland's Heroes: Kathryn Rodgers Hilleary

Kay Whelan

Staff Writer

Hyland's Heroes: Kathryn Rodgers Hilleary
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The following feature is a part of a bi-weekly series, sponsored by Hyland, Block & Hyland. "Hyland's Heroes" is a series of profiles that spotlight Louisville area Catholic volunteers, coaches and administrators who assist athletic programs and teams, and help promote excellence in all aspects of sports.

Know someone that you think should be featured as the next "Hyland's Hero”? Send your recommendation to

Kathryn Hilleary grew up a St. Matthews girl; she attended Our Lady of Lourdes and Sacred Heart Academy before attending Hanover College and the University of Louisville where she participated in cross country and track as a student.

Now married to husband Michael, they are parents to Mallie, Emma and Whitton. Their children have the “running gene” also. Though she will be moving up from grade school to high school, her remarks on how she became a CSAA coach and what the experience means to her is clearly expressed in this reflection.

When and how did you get your start with the CSAA? Why So?

My first practice as a Holy Spirit coach was for Cross Country on an August morning in 2011. Only one runner showed up; she was a seventh grader who had never run cross country or track.  We both were a little unsure of what we were doing.  But after that day, I was hooked – I knew I was going to love coaching. 

With each practice our numbers slowly grew, and one day I asked a group of parents if anyone would want to help coach. 

Our team has been blessed with many other coaches since then. Paul Widman, our laid-back "enforcer", brings water to every practice. Aaron Spaulding is our throws specialist (as in shot, discus and javelin). Many other coaches have given their time running with and encouraging the kids. Each of them offer his or her talents and provide valuable input as one person simply cannot teach 100 kids for 10 different events.

Allison McCombs, a parent I had seen around school, but whom I did not know, volunteered. This was the start of a great coaching team. Allison stands all of five feet tall and is packed with energy.  She adjusted her work hours and donned a clipboard. She is our cruise director at meets: setting up tents, corralling kids, answering parents' questions, cleaning up our trash and literally packing up my car when it is time to go home. Allison can make anything happen.

A year later, John Barako joined our coaching team. John and his wife have both recently retired and have begun to fully enjoy the fruits of their years of labor. But don't be fooled by his age – this hip grandpa is very active on Facebook and Twitter and #lovestohashtag. Having kids who participated in XC and Track and having coached at Mother of Good Council, John brings a wealth of experience and knowledge. He is also master statistician and a whiz with excel spreadsheets, breaking down race results so that we can better coach our kids.

What sports did you coach and for how long?

I have coached cross country and track and field at Holy Spirit since 2011.

What’s the connection with your faith (stewardship) and giving your time to young student athletes?

Our faith is important on our team as well. We pray before meets as we are thankful for our abilities and the opportunity we have before us. Additionally, we try to use our talents to benefit others. We planted trees in the park with the Olmsted Conservancy and participated in the Race to End Homelessness.

What are your major themes/principles as a coach?

Holy Spirits’ cross country and track field program has seen success. Participation has tripled in three years.  Hardware has been won.  For this to happen, divine Intervention brought things together:  a phenomenal group of kids, supportive parents, and a great coaching team.

What does coaching bring to you? Your family?

My family has been instrumental in my success.  We have had more-than-the-occasional fast food meal during XC/Track season.  My kids have learned to see me as their coach as well as their mom.   Michael gets to hear my triumphs and my frustrations.  He has spent many Saturdays as a "Track Widower."  He knows this is important to me and I am grateful for his patience.

What are the fondest experiences or memories you have of coaching?

My personal satisfaction comes from watching these kids challenge themselves, even if they fail.  A hurdler who falls, but gets back up to finish the race shows tremendous courage. 

A kiddo who achieves a Personal Record has an awesome smile at the finish line, even though the rest of her body wants to cry.  A runner who is always hard on himself learns the effects of a positive attitude, and becomes a leader with his contagious optimism.  There have even been moments when I can step outside of myself and just watch the kids in stride and see the beauty and miracle of their running.


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