Olivet community mourns the loss of Coach Ralph Hodge

For more than 39 seasons, Ralph “Tres” Hodge manned the sidelines as the head coach of the Tiger men’s basketball team. He passed away on Nov. 29, 2018. Celebration of his life and service on Monday, Dec. 3.

“Ralph Hodge influenced not only hundreds of Tiger athletes and staff members, but also NAIA and CCAC coaches and teams, by his commitment to excellence and Christian character,” said University President John C. Bowling. 

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For more than 39 seasons, Ralph “Tres” Hodge '75/'96 M.A.E. manned the sidelines as the head coach of the Olivet Tiger men’s basketball team. Since 1979, he led 18 Tiger teams to national tournament appearances, the most by any team from Illinois. 

In January 2018, with an 86-79 victory over Judson University (Illinois) in McHie Arena, he witnessed the team’s 1000th win in program history. He was on the sidelines for 769 of those wins and on the court for 86 more as a player.

For his achievements and success as a Tiger basketball guard, Olivet honored him by retiring his number 20 in 1975.

“Ralph was a good friend as well as a great colleague,” said Gary Newsome, director of athletics. “His 39 years speak loudly. He will be greatly missed.”

In 2014, Hodge was inducted as a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Hall of Fame class — the first Tiger to receive this honor. This distinction recognizes service to intercollegiate athletics and is the highest individual honor that the NAIA bestows. 

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“Coach Hodge never considered coaching anywhere else because Olivet was his family,” said Jeff Schimmelpfennig ’86/’91 M.B.A., former director of athletics and assistant coach for men’s basketball. “No matter what changed in his forty years at Olivet, he loved his opportunity to be the ONU coach. I never heard him call it a job. The ONU trophy case is full of accomplishments, but he never talked about that. He was always more concerned with his team’s reaching its fullest potential, to be viewed more for effort and teamwork than accomplishments. His focus was the journey, not the destination.” 

Hodge’s career distinctions include:

  • A 775-487 (.614) overall career record
  • 15 straight seasons of 20-plus wins from 1989 to 2003
  • 18 national tournament appearances and most appearances at NAIA Division I National Championships for an Illinois team
  • Four Northern Illinois Intercollegiate Conference (NIIC) championships
  • 12 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) regular season championships
  • Four NAIA District 20 championships
  • Six CCAC Tournament championships
  • Recipient of NAIA’s Charles A. Kriegel Award for Sportsmanship, 2002
  • Nine-time CCAC Coach of the Year
  • NAIA District 20 Coach of the Year, 1989
  • CCAC Hall of Fame, 2002
  • Illinois Basketball Coaches Association (IBCA) Hall of Fame, 2004
  • IBCA-NAIA Co-Coach of the Year, 2015 and 2016
  • NAIA national rater for CCAC Division I, 15 years

“Coach Hodge won a lot of games at ONU and had a lot of honors, but these accomplishments are not his legacy” said Corey Zink ’95/’99 M.A.E. “He taught us moment by moment to embrace the learning process, embrace the effort and embrace the pain. Many of us who played for him eventually learned not just to tolerate, but to feed off his unwavering competitive fire. I now realize that in these small moments he wasn't only driving us to become better players. He was making us better men, better husbands and better fathers. Coach Hodge will be missed, but he left a lasting legacy with the hundreds of players he profoundly impacted. I know I speak for so many Tiger basketball alumni when I say: Thank you, Coach.”

As a professor, Hodge taught numerous classes in physical education, health, sport psychology, and supervises student teachers. In addition to teaching, he directed summer youth and high school basketball camps at ONU and served as a clinician for the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association.

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In 2014, Olivet presented him with the Lay “O” Award. Begun in 1957, this is the highest honor the University gives to its alumni. The award was presented as part of the 2014 Homecoming and Family Weekend. 

Also in 2014, Olivet inducted him into the Athletics Hall of Fame for his men’s basketball coaching achievements. This honor made him the first person to be inducted in two categories. In 1988, he was honored for his career as a Tiger basketball player.

Hodge held a bachelor’s degree in physical education (1975) and a master’s degree in education (1996) from Olivet. He completed additional graduate studies from Western Illinois University, Northern Illinois University and Governor's State University.

“Coach Hodge taught me so much about the game of basketball, but even more about life, family and faith,” said Nick Birkey ’07/’13 M.O.L., interim men’s basketball head coach and assistant sports information director. “He was loyal, consistent and someone I could always count on. I will miss his mentoring and leadership, but more so, his friendship.”

Hodge’s wife, Janice (Barr) ’75, survives along with their three adult children and seven grandchildren: Scott ‘03 and his wife, Erin, and their children, Paxton, Crosby and Kensington; Kurt ’03 and his wife, Jenni, and their children, Hank, Hudson and Graham; Kellie ’09 and her husband, Darin, and their daughter, Everleigh.

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Published: 11/29/2018