Coach Ron Hoover celebrates his 80th birthday
Today, he walks with a cane and he is much slower getting from one place to the next. But he also looked like he could still give someone that scowl from the sidelines if a Red Knight football player did something he did not approve of.
Former North Fort Myers High School football coach Ron Hoover was celebrated Saturday by family and friends as he had his 80th birthday party at Victory Lane Cafe in North Fort Myers.
Former players, coaches and family gathered for food, fun, music and memories of a man who put North Fort Myers football on the map.
The event featured the customary cake and presents, along with pictures of Hoover from his days as a college player and his time as coach.
Bob Hildebrand, who coached under Hoover before taking over the Cape Coral program when it got started, said working for Hoover was a great experience.
“It was football oriented. Everybody wanted to build the football program and it was a lot of work, but a lot of fun,” Hildebrand said. “We had great accomplishments because we had great kids, and you can’t build a great program without them.”
When he took over the program in 1968, the team was in the middle of a 33-game losing streak. Five years later, the Red Knights became the first Southwest Florida team in 23 years to go undefeated and continued that excellence right up through his retirement in 1988.
In that time Hoover saw the likes of Deion Sanders, Tom Bohanon, Richard Fain and Warren Williams go to the NFL, while another player, Mike Greenwell, took the baseball route.
But it wasn’t an auspicious start for the hard-nosed coach.
“We hadn’t won in three years. The facilities were terrible, nobody cared about football,” Hoover said. “We had to hang our uniform in red bags, that was our locker.”
Randy Kersey, who played for Hoover in his first year, said despite their lack of knowledge of the game, he expected everyone to give their all, whatever that may be.
“When you start out like we did, the kids knew nothing about football. You had to teach them. Everything was different,” Kersey said. “He’s a great man. Tougher than nails. If he didn’t get the best out of you, you didn’t play football for him.”
Hoover’s legacy remains today with head coach Brian Makar, who played and coached under Hoover.
“It’s one of those life experiences you don’t forget. He’s one of a kind. It takes special people to play for him and it was lots of fun,” Makar said. “Hard-nosed, Bear Bryant, old school kind of coaching. You had to work hard to succeed. He taught me a lot about how to be a head coach.”Hoover hopes his legacy is about what his kids became off the field by the lessons he taught them on.
“I’d like to be known as someone who was fair with everybody. There’s more to being a football player than just that. Can you pick yourself up by your bootstraps and do you want to be in a foxhole with this guy? We taught kids to be responsible and a good teammate,” Hoover said.