It’s not a stretch to compare Cathy Jo (Ewing) Hill, a three-sport coach at Tonto Basin Elementary School, to legendary UCLA basketball coach Dr. John Wooden.
The comparisons are valid because both share some of the same coaching philosophy.
For example, Wooden, winner of an unprecedented and unmatched 10 NCAA men’s basketball championships during a 40-year career, once said, “When the game is over, I want your head up — you did your best ... no one can do more ... you made that effort.”
Spend a few minutes talking with Hill and it becomes evident she wholeheartedly agrees with the famous coach, “Everyone brings something to the team, everyone has something to offer and we want them to know that ... we want them to walk away knowing that they did their best for the team.”
In giving advice to listeners, Wooden once said, “Great leaders give credit to others ...” which Hill frequently does especially when the discussion involves the young student-athletes she coaches.
When prompted to share information for this story, Hill shied away from talking about herself opting instead to spew superlatives about those she coaches and her assistants.
In particular, she praised volleyball co-coach Johnna Kile saying, “She makes coaching so much fun.”
Wooden also once cited studies that show most youth league coaches get involved for the love of the game, which is among the reasons Hill coaches basketball, volleyball and cross country at the small country school located south of Payson near Roosevelt Lake.
In high school, Hill loved basketball and it showed in the way she totally committed to the sport and became a student of the game.
As she grew older and became a mother, she passed on her love of sports to her children, Chioya and B.J.
The last two seasons, Chioya has been one of the finest players on the Lady Longhorn basketball team and B.J. once starred for the Payson High football team as a quarterback and running back.
Over the years, Hill-coached teams at Tonto Basin have traditionally done exceptionally well in Desert Pine League play.
In 2006-2007, when Chioya was an eighth-grader at the school, Tonto Basin teams were undefeated in every sport.
The past two years, the co-ed basketball team, which includes six boys and two girls, has been unbeaten.
Hill’s coaching efforts have drawn praise from throngs of parents including Art Chamberlin, whose grandson Kasey competes on school teams.
“She’s an outstanding coach and does so much for the children at the school,” Chamberlin said. “We can’t thank her enough.”
Chamberlin, an acclaimed fishing guide who has a good knowledge of basketball, attributes the success of Hill-coached teams to the defense she teaches.
“Last season, the defense gave up only 10.1 ppg, and the offense averaged 35.5 ppg,” Chamberlin said. “The defense just swarms at you.”
The obviously modest Hill wants little credit for her coaching exploits, but parents are going to thank her and the players on the past two unbeaten basketball teams during a celebration to be held at 6 p.m., Wednesday, July 17 at Big Daddy’s restaurant in Tonto Basin.
Although there is plenty of talk about winning teams in the small high desert community, Hill’s philosophy doesn’t hinge on wins and losses.
Rather, Hill stresses participation, saying everyone on the team should play and “cuts” should not be a part of the sport program.
“We want everyone to feel important,” Hill said.
As a coach of co-ed teams, she’s quick to ensure all the team members, both boys and girls, receive equal opportunities in all three sports.
While the school has only one track and field meet each year, an interschool competition held each spring, Hill works to find a spot for each student.
“We have a lot of relay teams,” she said. “We only award three places, but every student earns an award ... we don’t just give out ‘participation’ certificates.”
Like Wooden, Hill also tries to develop in her athletes a TEAM philosophy (Together Each Achieves More), which she is convinced brings together the ingredients necessary for success.
While coaching at such a small school with limited facilities is a challenge, Hill claims there are some unexpected rewards, “Sometimes I’ll be on Facebook and I’ll see a former student trying to get a hold of me ... that’s always a treat. It feels good to know you’ve helped them grow.”