Where Are They Now?: Womens Basketballs Ilene Hailey
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – In 1980, Ilene Hailey came to Northern Arizona University on an athletic scholarship to play basketball for the Lumberjacks. She has lived in Flagstaff ever since, and thirty years later, is a proud mother of two, an accomplished hunter and archer, and co-owner and operator of the local bowling alley, Starlite Lanes.
Hailey’s connection to athletics began long before Starlite Lanes. She grew up in Las Vegas, Nev., with few guiding influences in sports, but loved athletics.
“I was the only one in my family that played organized sports,” Hailey said. “It was more of an escape for me. In junior high, I started getting into some trouble and I had a coach grab me by the collar pretty much and said, ‘You will be at basketball practice today.’ That is where it started.”
Out of high school, the former Ilene Spilsbury went to Dixie State College in St. George, Utah, which was a two-year junior college institution at the time. She was a three-sport athlete at Dixie competing in basketball, volleyball, and softball and was recruited by several schools including NAU. The circumstances surrounding Hailey’s commitment to the Mountain Campus were largely coincidental.
“I was actually on a science field trip going down to Organ Pipe national monument, and we drove through Flagstaff,” Hailey said. “They had sent me a couple letters, and when I saw the area I said, ‘Wow. This is where I am coming.’ I had been on recruiting trips to Colorado and Salt Lake City, but I saw the campus and knew this was where I wanted to be.”
Hailey played for head coach Paulette Gebert from 1981-83 and received her bachelor’s degree in education. She went on to teach and coach basketball in Flagstaff for several years, and had planned to move home to Las Vegas before a serendipitous moment at Starlite Lanes changed her life.
“I had a teaching job and a coaching job set up at my old high school in Vegas and probably a week after I finalized that I met him,” said Hailey of her husband, Roger, whom she has been married to for 24 years. Incidentally, the same amount of time the family has owned Starlite Lanes. “I met him here [at the bowling alley.] I came to pick up one of my roommates. She was a bartender here and met him and that was it. End of story. We were married and later had our first child. We have two boys, Tyler and Ryan.”
Hailey was a stay-at-home mom, but later found her way back to NAU as a back office nurse for current lead physician Dr. George Hershey, a position he has held since 1971. Hailey and Dr. Hershey had known each other well from her playing days for NAU basketball. She had suffered an ankle injury and spent a great deal of time in the training room.
As a player, Hailey recalls 6 a.m. practices and long rides in cramped vans for away games. She remembers faculty attending games and talking about it the next day in class. More notably, she is reminded of the close relationships she developed as a NAU student-athlete.
“When kids go to school I see there is a lot of fear,” Hailey said. “You are going someplace different and away from home. I didn’t have that fear coming to NAU because when you are a part of a basketball team you are automatically a family. I was always really comfortable. That is pretty much how it was the whole time. You always have someone there for you. They have become lifelong friends. I know if I ever need anything from them I could call.”
Now removed from the basketball court, as the grind of the adult city leagues eventually became too much, Hailey’s days are spent with Roger, managing the day-to-day operations at the bowling alley.
“Running this place has been good,” she said. “We have done a lot here with the community. Other than my kids I think I am proud of that the most. We do a ton of stuff for the special needs groups like Big Brothers Big Sisters. We have always tried to do a lot for the high schools. Pretty much every high school has a banner with Starlite Lanes on it.
The pair is active in the Flagstaff community, that is, when they are in town. Hailey says the couple has spent much of their time traveling mostly to keep up with her two current pursuits: hunting and archery.
“We travel constantly which I love. We have been to Africa twice and Central America. We went to British Columbia where I got a big moose and hunted deer in Turkey. In a little over a month we are going to Alaska for bear. Archery has taken over as my new passion. I hunt all over the world. Our last trip to Africa I took six different animals with my bow.
“I shoot competitive archery too. I do 3D competitions, and last year, I was second in the Best of the West. Hopefully this year I can improve on that, but the competitions are pretty stiff. My summers are filled up with travel for competitions and in the fall it is hunting.”
Overall, Hailey is pleased with the choices she has made, which have led her to a successful career and loving family. In fact, things have come full circle for the Hailey family as their oldest son, Tyler, is being “groomed” to take over the family business at some point down the road.
“I am very satisfied with how things have turned out,” she said. “I was there for my kids. I was there growing up spending time in the classrooms after school. I was a Cub Scout leader for years and as they got into high school and started playing sports, I ran the Coconino Football Booster Club, which is a huge undertaking. The thing I am most proud of is being there for them growing up. Although, I am not sure how much they enjoyed it.”