Not long ago, Big Pine Key residents banded together for a benefit to raise money for a man near and dear to their hearts.  This man is Mike Hartley, a pioneer in volunteering for kids in the Keys as an AYSO coach and as an advocate for programs geared toward youth.

“That’s one thing I love about the Keys,” Hartley said.  “Whenever something goes wrong – be is a hurricane, or a benefit, or lack of funding for a program – everyone pulls together to help out.”

In the rain and without much notice, people continued to show up at Hartley’s benefit after a life threatening heart condition almost got the best of him.  Most were donning shirts with his face and his famous AYSO coaching quote, “Relax…it’s only a game.”

Mike Hartley is a staple in the Big Pine community.  He is actively involved in the Boy Scouts, Regional Commissioner and Area Director of the AYSO, works closely with the Big Pine Athletic Association and is a board member of the Moose Lodge.

Leaning forward in his chair with a cup of café con leche from his favorite little cantina in Big Pine, Coco’s, and wearing his Navy digs from NAS Key West, he tells the story of a young Scottish man.

While working for the US Navy, he fell in love with an active duty American woman who would later become his wife. Today Roma works for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.  “She ended up getting stationed in Scotland, and right when we found out we were expecting little Mike, we were sent to Key West and have been in the Keys ever since,” he said with a smile.

Nine years ago, the family of four moved to Big Pine and quickly became uber-involved in the community.

“There has never been a lack of things to do in Big Pine, maybe just a lack of volunteers to do them,” he said.  “There have always been great mentors and team players.  It’s never been one person, but teams of people.”

He started naming people counting down his fingers.  “Look at all the volunteers in this community.  It truly is a caring and giving community.”

His favorite quote is from President John F. Kennedy. “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” Hartley feels the need to replace country with community.

He believes all kids are good and if they are started off in a positive environment they’ll stay good.

With two sons of his own, he feels the need to guide them in a non-invasive way. 

“I had a heart-to-heart with my son [who just graduated from KWHS] who wanted to go into hospitality.  I asked him where he saw himself in 10 years and he told me doing something in theater or on stage,” Hartley continued.  “I asked him why then he wanted to go into hospitality and he replied that I told him to get something sensible.  I then had to explain to him that it was his life and he needed to do what he was happy doing.”

He also lets 14-year-old son, Robert, know that he doesn’t have to follow in his brother’s footsteps and that the two need to lead their own lives.  He chuckled a little and added he didn’t think he could handle another Mike anyway.

“The youth of today know where they are going,” he said.  “I really don’t see peer pressure like there used to be.”

Hartley told the story of a kid who just graduated from Key West a month ago who works at the local Winn-Dixie.  “With some of the scholarships he received he is going to take classes at FKCC and hopes to get his boat captain’s license,” Hartley said.  “I love seeing these kids follow their dreams.”

He loves that he was so involved in the community and in his kid’s lives.  “We have a pretty unique relationship,” he said of his sons.  “That’s one thing that all those years on the field coaching and being involved did – build great memories.”

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