Main Content

ACU Remembers: Don W. Hood


Don W. Hood was inducted to the ACU Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.

Don Wade Hood (’55), former Abilene Christian University track and field head coach whose athletes won national championships, set world records and achieved Olympic success, died Feb. 9, 2024, in Abilene, Texas, at age 90.

Visitation with the family is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 15, from 6-8 p.m. at Elliott Hamil Funeral Home (5701 U.S. Highway 277 South, Abilene, Texas 79601), and again Feb. 16 at 3 p.m. at Hillcrest Church of Christ (650 E. Ambler Ave., Abilene, Texas 79601), where the memorial service follows at 4:30 p.m. A private burial takes place Feb. 17 in Sulphur Springs.

Hood was born April 6, 1933, in Marlow, Oklahoma, and grew up in Tulare, California. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1955, a M.S. degree from Texas A&M-Commerce in 1958 and studied toward an Ed.D. at the University of North Texas. 

He wed ACU classmate Betty Ann Maddox (’57) in 1955, and she died in 2002. Hood married Shirley Merritt in 2004, and she died in 2023.

Hood coached at four Texas high schools and began his career at Azle, turning around a floundering football program to win three district titles (1959-61) and the 1958 state title in boys’ cross country. His team won the state title in boys’ track and field at Corpus Christi (Texas) Moody High School in 1968. 

He was the head track and field coach at ACU from 1977-88, when he led the Wildcats to eight NCAA Division II national championships and two NAIA titles.

An esteemed coach-clinician in throwing events, Hood mentored nine Olympians at Abilene Christian and 16 overall in a career that included earlier roles at the University of North Texas, Wichita State University and Howard Payne University. 


Hood (front, center) with one of his NCAA Division II national championship Wildcat teams.

His Wildcat teams won nine Lone Star Conference championships, and he was named the league’s Coach of the Year eight times. His 1984 ACU men’s team is considered the greatest in NCAA Division II history, when the Wildcats scored 246 points and outdistanced the second-place team by 117 at the national meet.

He was especially known as the innovative tutor of a succession of great Wildcat pole vaulters, including Billy Olson (’81), Brad Pursley (’84) and Tim Bright (’84). In all, he coached 13 vaulters over the 18-foot barrier, starting with Olson, who set 11 world indoor records in the 1980s. Olson was the first person to vault 19 feet indoors and the first American to clear 19 feet. Bright, another 19-footer, was a three-time U.S. Olympian in the pole vault and decathlon, and Pursley was the American record holder in the vault.

Hood coached seven women’s vaulters to All-American honors, including ACU’s Jane McNeill (’02), who became the first woman in NCAA Division II history to win a national title in the event. With Hood as a tutor, Wildcats soon became dominant in that event, with standouts such as Meredith (Garner ’02) Powell, Katie Eckley (’04), Angie Aguilar (’07), Dr. Elizabeth (Buyse ’10) Kessler, Jessica Blair (’07) and Val (Gorter ’05) Schonewill.

Overall, his 159 athletes who earned All-American honors included 108 in the NCAA and 51 in the NAIA, and he taught many others through his Don Hood World Class Pole Vault Camps. 

ACU Olympians during Hood’s tenure as men’s head coach included Bright, Olson and Mark Witherspoon (’85) of the U.S.; Albert Lawrence (’85), Greg Meghoo (’89) and Chris Faulknor (’90) of Jamaica; Joe Ramotshabi (’85) of Botswana; Ian Morris (’91) and Robert Guy (’99) of Trinidad and Tobago; James Browne (’90) of Antigua and Barbuda; Ahmed Shata (’89) of Egypt; Freddie Williams (’87) of Canada; Joseph Styles (’96) of Bahamas; Sayon Cooper (’98) of Liberia; Andy Kokhanovsky (’98) of Ukraine; and Savieri Ngidhi (’95) of Zimbabwe. Lawrence and Meghoo were silver medalists and Cooper is Abilene Christian’s only four-time Olympian, twice as an athlete and twice as head coach for his homeland.


Billy Olson (left) and Frank Estes (right) were two of Don Hood’s highly successful pole vaulters at ACU.

Coach Hood was a legend in my book,” said Garner Roberts (’70), former longtime ACU sports information director. “His high school and college athletes were better prepared and inspired than many of their fellow competitors. His rare combination of competitiveness and skill gave his athletes – especially in the vault and throws – an advantage. Many were the best in the nation or even the world because of their talent and his coaching. He loved his alma mater. I will miss talking to him at track meets. And he did a great job ‘coaching’ his three sons. His wife, Betty Ann, taught my kids in elementary school. We will miss both of them.”

Hood’s successor as men’s and women’s head coach, Texas Tech University’s Wes Kittley (’81), said no one out-worked his mentor. 

I owe everything to him for recruiting me to run at ACU and later recommending me for the job as head women’s coach,” said Kittley, who continued ACU’s domination in the sport with teams that won a record 29 NCAA championships. “He taught me so much about coaching through his tireless work ethic. I will always love Don Hood.” 

Olson, a 1980 U.S. Olympian, said Hood’s vaulters stay in contact with each other regularly. 

“Coach Hood came up with a lot of innovative training techniques such as gymnastics and other drills that simulated vaulting. He had such dedication to the sport and love for us. If you called him on any Sunday after church and said, ‘There’s a good tailwind today, let’s jump!’ he would meet you at the track,” Olson said. 


ACU’s Coach Don W. Hood Fieldhouse, adjacent to Elmer Gray Stadium, was dedicated in 2021.

“He loved ACU, without any doubt or hesitation. The reason why Abilene Christian was named Sports Dynasty of the Century (by Texas Monthly in 1999) is in large part because of its coaches, especially him, Oliver Jackson (’42) and Wes Kittley. Coach Hood had great success and people who were really fired up about being the best in track and field wanted to be around him.”

Hood was respected internationally for his expertise.

“He was a student of the sport his entire life and known everywhere for his knowledge about the pole vault and other events as well,” said Don Garrett (’77), longtime Texas track and field meet announcer and former ACU director of advancement. “He carried spiral notebooks around with him and asked questions of coaches he met along the way. He loved conducting clinics and traveled the world making connections with coaches in other places, which in turn, attracted student-athletes from many countries who wanted to become Wildcats.”

Hood was inducted into the ACU Sports Hall of Fame (1998), the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame (2006), the National Pole Vault Summit Hall of Fame, and the Texas Track and Field Coaches Association Hall of Fame (2013).

Two of Hood’s three sons also coached at ACU and won Division II national championships during their tenures. Don D. Hood was the head track and field coach from 2005-09 and led the men to outdoor titles from 2006-08 and the women to the outdoor title in 2008. His youngest son, Derek, was head cross country coach from 2005-08 and led the Wildcats to back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007.

In March 2021, ACU made him the namesake of the Coach Don W. Hood Fieldhouse adjacent to Elmer Gray Stadium.

He was preceded in death by his parents, O.H. and Madie Belle Hood; his first wife, Betty, and second wife, Shirley; brothers Charles Hood (’57) and Dr. Gary Hood (’64); and sisters Mary Logan and Betty Kooser.

Among survivors are sons Joel Hood (’84) and wife Stacy (Weatherly ’85) of Jacksboro, Texas, Don D. Hood (’87) and wife Rachel (Trevino ’90) of Searcy, Arkansas, and Derek Hood (’90) and wife Lex Ann (Wilburn ’90) of Abilene; 11 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

— Ron Hadfield
Feb. 9, 2024

SHARE: [Sassy_Social_Share type="standard"]