ISHPEMING - Iron ore was once Ishpeming's greatest natural resource.
Now it may be 50-year-old hometown native Tim Hares.
Hares helps keep youth sports vibrant in the west end, but he gets something out of it, too.
Ishpeming Little League T-ball coordinator Tim Hares works with his daughter, Ava, on her swing on June 21 at the Ishpeming Playgrounds baseball fields. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
"You're able to draw inspiration from the kids with all their energy," said the 1979 graduate of Ishpeming High School who played on the Hematites' 1978 state football semifinalist team.
"It's really neat to watch these kids grow up from the time they're 4 until 18 and even beyond."
Hares is currently running the Ishpeming Little League's T-ball program which he helped restart two summers ago. In 2010, 58 children ages 4 to 6 participated, which increased to 87 last year and 141 this summer.
"Sports in general is the best things for kids, you can talk to my physician about that," he said.
T-ball is just the tip of the Ishpeming sports iceberg for the retired Department of Corrections sergeant who last worked at the Baraga Max facility.
He coaches several other Little League teams, runs the popular west end youth wrestling program, is head coach of the Ishpeming High School wrestling team, helps run the flag football program and organizes the annual IHS Alumni Softball Tournament, which is now in its 33rd year.
Previously, he's also worked with Ishpeming American Legion baseball and coached seven years with the IHS freshman football team.
One thing all these programs have in common is strong participation, and it's no coincidence with Hares involved, at least not if you talk to some of the participants' parents and grandparents.
"He's a motivator and good with the kids," said Jon Sollid, father of T-baller Jillian Sollid. "He has a lot more patience than I do, and he wants to see every kid succeed to the best of their ability."
"Tim talks to them at their level when a lot of coaches use big words and talk over their heads," said Sara Martin of Ishpeming, whose son Zachary was on the field last week. And Zachary and his older brother Xavier have participated in the youth wrestling program in Ishpeming.
"My son didn't want to play the first day, but with a little coaxing, Tim got him to give it a try. Now he's one of the most aggressive kids when he's fielding the ball," said Marry Epperson of Ishpeming, talking about her son, Christopher Steele. "Tim has a great attention to detail and he pays attention to every single kid."
And maybe the best endorsement came from Denise Hyatt of Ishpeming, who was working at the concession stand as her daughter, McKenzie Hyatt, was playing.
"Tim is just infectious with his enthusiasm," she said. "He makes it fun for the kids. I don't know anyone who can get the attention of kids this age like he can.
"But he's more than a baseball coach, he's a mentor. I'm so proud that he's the one coaching them, since he makes sure no kid is left behind."
She also has an older 7-year-old son, Kyle, who has been involved in wrestling.
"Tim tells the older kids they have to clean their room to be able to wrestle, to be nice to their parents, to do their homework and get good grades," Hyatt said. "He helps kids be well rounded."
It's all goes with Hares' philosophy of equal, though not identical, treatment.
"You've got to treat every kid differently," Hares said. "Not everyone responds to the same thing, but still be fair and not show favoritism. Trust me, they all feed off that.
"Like with our flag football team, I always make sure every kid gets a chance to be the quarterback."
He says he's inspired by some of his early mentors.
"I've had such great coaches in my life, like Mike Mileski and Bernie Anderson," Hares said.
Mileski coached two 1970s Ishpeming football teams to state titles and was named U.P. Coach of the Year with Hares' 1978 team, while Anderson is an Ishpeming native who coached there before becoming the longtime head football coach at Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan universities.
And Hares credits his wife, Dana, for allowing him to concentrate on his work with the kids by doing other jobs. For instance, on this particular day, she was running the concession stand.
"She really helps me out lots," he said.
Hares has four children, Kaitlin, 24, Casey, 22, Hayden, 6, and Ava, 4, who is playing for her dad's team in T-ball this year.
"I've always felt it was a privilege to be able to coach kids," he said. "I treat them like they're my own.
"It's rewarding to see the progress they make during the season and from season to season.
"It's more than just playing well. You want to build their self-confidence, to be able to rely on themselves."
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.