Finding his passion


By: John Hollinger

Griffin Reporter

Mike Hayes, a radio producer and reporter for WFAN in New York City, was covering a game for the station at the Meadowlands between the New Jersey Nets and the Chicago Bulls. It was a “god-awful” game, according to Hayes, but an inadvertent bump into a player after the

game made it worth remembering.“I ran right into [Michael] Jordan. I just didn’t see him. I kinda just bounce off of him… like a brick house,” Hayes said laughingly. This was back in the ‘90s, when Jordan was still playing and winning NBA championships for the Bulls.

“Long night, huh?” said Jordan.

“Yeah, you’re telling me,” said Hayes.

The two started to converse once Hayes was able to gather himself from the accidental run-in.

“It’s cool man, don’t worry about it,” Jordan said after Hayes apologized for running into him.

“Oh, my God, if I ever injured him, I’d be famous for bad reasons,” said Hayes. Eventually, the rest of the media circled them and started to ask Jordan about the game.

Afterwards, he told the station’s evening producer the interviews which he had recorded. When he mentioned that he got audio recordings of an interview with Jordan, Hayes said the evening producer at the station was extremely impressed.

“You got Jordan to talk? How’d you get Jordan to talk? He usually just does TV.”

But Hayes did not think it was a big deal at all.

“You should be much more excited about this than you are,” said Hayes,  referring to what that evening producer at the station told him that night.

But Hayes was not. In fact, he couldn’t wait to get home that night.

He had been around these star athletes for years at WFAN, which was one of the biggest sports radio stations in the New York City area at the time.

One of those athletes was Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees. According to Hayes, he had been around Jeter and the Yankees organization for quite some time. He did not just report on him for a few games for the station, as Hayes was in the New York Yankees or visiting the team’s locker room for every home game from 1994-97—including Jeter’s rookie season in 1995 and the World Series Championship season in 1996. Hayes recalls how he worked alongside the likes of Yankee legends Joe Torre, Joe Girardi, Andy Petitte, and Greg Maddux, to name a few. He recalls Mariano Rivera’s fiery and passion and how, after the ‘96 World Series, Mariano Rivera’s entire family was screaming with excitement in the locker room.

Hayes was even the accomplice in a practical joke that Jeter played on one of his teammates, Darryl Strawberry.

“They had just won the AL East and Jeter had loaded up a bottle of champagne, and he asked me to keep Darryl occupied so he could get a good shot at him. When I said, ‘Thanks, Straw,’  Jeter let his thumb go off of the bottle and blasted Straw right in the face,” said Hayes.

“He was very, very polite and always had time for us… [He was a] classy guy,” said Hayes, in reference to Jeter’s character. According to Hayes, this experience was incredible.  He was at a top sports radio station in one of the largest markets in the country, reporting on his favorite sport for one of the biggest sports franchises in the world: the New York Yankees.

His love of baseball broadcasting all started from his time in high school doing the play-by-play calls from the team bench.

“I was not a great athlete by any means,” said Hayes. “I jokingly would say I play left, [and] they would ask, ‘Left field?’ And I would say ‘no, left to the bench.’”

Hayes was the last one to make his high school’s baseball team and admits that he was only on the team because he knew the rules and how to keep the score. He would eventually be doing sports producing and reporting for WFAN. But to make it to such a prestigious station was not easy for a kid from Yonkers, according to Hayes, especially in the rough inner cities in which he grew up in. Hayes also admitted that some of his friends didn’t end up so well.

“My parents were amazing people who kept me involved in things and away from bad influences. I owe them a whole lot because a lot of my friends didn’t turn out so well.”

One of those things included being an altar server for years. He was raised Catholic and said that he enjoyed going to his Parish. He also attended weekend retreats that he described as relatively uneventful. It wasn’t until he attended a Minister Retreat at Fordham University where he really became intrigued. These retreats were pretty intense, according to Hayes, and he stayed involved with campus ministry as well as sports reporting at Fordham. Hayes said he gained valuable experience reporting on the Fordham athletics and says he owes a lot to his alma mater.

That valuable experience included doing play-by-play commentating of the basketball games. Because he was doing so well, WFAN asked if he could call the updates for the station at Fordham when St. Francis came to play. This was a pivotal game, as the winner would advance to the NCAA tournament. On the court that day in 1991 for St. Francis was former Canisius assistant coach, Mike Iuzzolino, who was easily their best player, according to Hayes. The head coach of St. Francis at the time was former Canisius head coach Jim Baron. He recalled Baron on the other side of the court being so loud that at times he could barely hear Chris “Maddog” Russo relaying information back to him from the station. St. Francis “ran them out of the building,” as Baron and the Red Flash made their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.

Fordham really helped Hayes obtain his passion in the sports radio business, which he says he is thankful for. He had made the switch over to WOR Radio in New York City, and was WFAN’s rival station.  But after eight years in the radio business, Hayes said that his passion started to fade.

Hayes admitted that he did not realize his lack of passion until he reflected back to the night where he bumped into Jordan.

“I was not excited about this at all… This was work,” said Hayes. “I see these guys all the time; the novelty has worn off.”

After reflecting back on it, Hayes realized that his love for the job had changed. “I realized that other people were just far more passionate about this than I was, and that maybe I needed to think about what else I’m passionate about,” he said.

He would soon find his passion again, and ultimately change directions in his career. What he was passionate about were the weekend retreats that he would go on. He began to be more involved with leading retreats on the weekends after making the switch to WOR radio.

A year or so later, Hayes returned from a weekend retreat and recalls an interaction that he had with his boss which would put him in a new direction.

“I did a weekend retreat and I was on top of the world,” said Hayes. “I was really feeling good.”

The program director noticed how happy Hayes was every time that he returned from these weekend retreats.

“‘Happy’ is even the wrong word; you’re just really, really excited and enriched by what you’re doing… And I don’t really see you enriched by producing my silly old radio program,” Hayes’ boss told him.

“And he goes, ‘you should go and think about doing those retreats for a living,’” said Hayes.

Hayes really did not think much of it, but admitted that his boss really did push him to consider a career in ministry. He made him call people within the business to find out what they liked and disliked about their job.

Hayes then changed his career completely in September of 2000. He started working for the Paulists—a community of Catholic priests who share the Gospel through parish missions, media, campus ministries, and more, according to Hayes said that because of his background in media, he was able to transition fairly easily for the Paulists and was the creator of the Busted Halo website. The Paulists even paid for his education as he obtained his Masters in religion from Fordham University in 2005.

Today, Hayes is the director of campus ministry at Canisius College and has had the position since 2013.

“Two things that come to mind when I think of Mike Hayes. As a leader he is fair and he is practical,” said Joseph Van Volkenburg, who is the senior associate of campus ministry at Canisius.“It’s all about relationships.”

Van Volkenburg said that he is very appreciative of Hayes. Because Van Volkenburg believes building relationships is key, he often attends Canisius athletic games, which Hayes allows him to do.

“I am able to get athletes to volunteer because Mike allows me to build relationships with them.”

Prior to Hayes coming to Canisius in 2013, he was a campus minister at the University at Buffalo from 2009-13. According to Hayes, he made the switch because he knew spirituality was at the core of Canisius.

“I could be at UB for 50 years, and it’s never going to be at the center of the school, where here at Canisius it certainly is,” said Hayes. “Now I run the retreat program here still, and that’s still something that gets me going.”

One who has experienced these retreats with Hayes is Canisius senior Matthew Pernick, ‘17. Pernick had Hayes as his small group leader at his very first retreat over three years ago.

“Mike was an incredible and sincere listener during our group sessions and had no problem passing off autonomy to students during the retreat, which shows how he continually leads by uplifting others.”

Pernick also admitted how he was able to benefit from this leadership that Hayes allowed. He also grew in his own self-confidence during the experience as he began to understand his own self-worth and capabilities during these retreats with Hayes. Hayes also creates a safe environment and comfortable setting on these retreats according to Pernick.

“Mike has always approached these situations with the intent to let everyone know that they are supported by the group and in solidarity with everyone else,” said Pernick.

One way that Hayes does this, according to Pernick, is through Hayes’s willingness to share his story and allow everyone else to feel at ease in sharing their own.  Hayes’s life prior to being a campus minister dates back further than his involvement in sports radio in the 90s and attending Fordham prior to that. He grew up in the south side of Yonkers, which wasn’t the safest of places to grow up.

“I was pretty scared to walk to school some days,” said Hayes. When he was just 14, a guy got shot on the corner of his street. Although he admitted that that was rare, he also said that his neighborhood was definitely not the safest of places.

He admitted that it certainly has been a journey from his days back in Yonkers to sports radio and finally to Canisius.

“When I think back to it now, I think, man, that was not easy,” said Hayes. “I was a poor kid from Yonkers. I didn’t have any money. My father was a school custodian and my mother didn’t work. She’s been sick most of my life.”

Hayes recalled one time from back in high school when he was getting dropped off at his house while his friends were in the same car. “One guy was like, ‘Yo Mike, respect, we didn’t know.’ I was like, ‘huh?’ ‘We didn’t know you lived in the ghetto.’ I was like, ‘Neither did I.’ From that day forward, those guys had my back,” said Hayes.

Hayes reflected on how he went from growing up in the inner city of Yonkers to being a sports producer and reporter at WFAN and WOR.  “I literally was the kid from the streets who had kind of made it,” he said.

Hayes lived the life that he dreamed, and continues to live his dream through his new passion in campus ministry. He gave up what most would see as the dream job of being a reporter and producer for one of the largest sports radio stations and interacting with the world’s best athletes to work with college students. Along the way, he has authored multiple books. His first book, which was published in 2007 and called Googling God, emphasizes the religious landscape of people in their 20s and 30s. Hayes enjoyed this topic, as he said that he believes that there was not enough emphasis on helping those in this age range in regards to religion and that this age group is often overlooked.

In his second book, Loving Work, he talks about his own journey and how to bring love to the work people do. This book tells his story of Hayes leaving a promising career in sports radio to discover what God wanted him to do. He was not loving work at the sports radio station and went on a journey to find out and live out what he truly loves to do.  In addition, he is also the author of the Orbis books.
Hayes has transitioned his successful sports radio career into a career in which he now loves: campus ministry.

“It is very clear that Mike’s heart is fully in these retreat experiences, and he believes in their purpose to his very core,” said Pernick. “He sacrifices a great amount of himself mentally and emotionally in preparing and coordinating these retreats, which is extremely admirable.”


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