NORMAN — Pete Hughes carries the legacy of his mother every day.
Alice Hughes’ favorite number was 19, the number the Oklahoma baseball coach wears.
Even bigger, though, is the program Hughes began two years ago as the coach at Virginia Tech and has carried over to Norman.
Hughes started the “19 Ways” program to honor Alice through his team’s 19 service projects every year.
“I wanted to do something where we could carry on her legacy and who she was and still be a part of my life and career and get our guys to do something productive other than just play college baseball,” Hughes said. “It kind of knocks out the entitlement of the college athlete and makes it more of a privilege situation.”
Alice Hughes was a nursing home nurse who tried to make life better for her patients — while also taking care of her sons. She died when Pete was 23.
“My mother was that happy face that supplied relief every day to these people, then she would come home and take care of four guys who couldn’t take care of themselves and feed them and do laundry,” Hughes said. “She was the ultimate giver.”
This year, the Sooners have read to children at the Moore Crossroads Children’s Center and spent an evening playing bingo and socializing with retirees at the Rivermont Retirement Home in Norman.
They spent a series of Monday afternoons in February and March giving clinics and running practices at Boys and Girls Clubs in Oklahoma City and helped Meals on Wheels deliver holiday poinsettias at Christmas time.
They played an ALS Awareness Halloween game in costumes to raise money for the Pete Frates No. 3 Fund and raised nearly $30,000 for the Vs. Cancer Foundation and OU Children’s Hospital.
This week, they’ll spend time at a food bank in Norman for project No. 19, though they don’t plan on stopping there.
As much as the people served by the various projects benefit, the players get plenty from the experience too
“It’s awesome,” Sooners infielder Hector Lorenzana said. “It definitely makes you a better person. Especially when I went to Children’s Hospital for their prom night. It makes you thankful for the little things.
“At first it was kind of sad but it really inspired me. All those kids had a smile on their face. It made me feel like I’m over here getting mad about this and that while these kids are battling for their lives. It kind of puts my life in perspective and makes me thankful for the things that I have.”
Hughes credits volunteer assistant Ryan Connolly with the success of the program in Norman.
He was an assistant under Hughes at Virginia Tech and picked up the role as the program coordinator when he came to Norman.
“The response has been amazing,” Connolly said. “You start to see it throughout the course of the spring, the people that are here, because they’ve seen what we’ve done they want to come out and support these guys because they’ve done so much great for the community.”
Connolly understands Hughes’ drive to honor his mother. His father, Michael, died of lung cancer when Ryan was 15. The Connolly family established the Michael E. Connolly Endowment for Lung Cancer Research to honor Michael.
“You’re going to go through life and there’s going to be a ton of different things that inspire you — hopefully the majority of those are good things but some of them are things that you wish weren’t there. Obviously his mom passing was what inspired this but it was more her legacy and what she did when she was alive,” Connolly said. “That’s the same thing with me and my father. They were both extremely giving, selfless people. I guess those qualities are probably naturally going to be placed upon us and this is the result and we’re never going to stop.
“It’s going to grow. It’s going to grow big.”
The 19 Ways program lives on at Virginia Tech and is now firmly established in Norman.
Hughes’ next goal is to take the program national.
Notre Dame baseball is expected to implement the program next year, as is Delaware football. Northeastern University in Boston, where Hughes was an assistant football and baseball coach from 1991-96, is planning on making 19 Ways part of its program as well.
“My goal is to get 19 Ways chapters all over the country,” Hughes said. “It’ll be with me for the rest of my career.”