Soccer Alums Say Farewell to Coach Butcher
Keene State held its homecoming a few weeks ago, but over 60 former Owl men’s soccer players made a special pilgrimage back to the College on Saturday to say thank you to their coach.
After 43 seasons and over 900 games, Keene State men’s soccer coach Ron Butcher has decided to call it a career. Some came from Florida and the Carolinas while others came from down the street in Swanzey, but they knew they had to return to personally say thank you to someone who played such an important role in their lives. “I drove in yesterday, a 15-hour drive from Charlotte, North Carolina, to see Butch and send him off in style. He was a huge part of everybody’s life,” said Chis Pangalos, a 1987 grad.
“I came back to honor a great coach. He’s a father to us,” said John McCully, a three-time All-America from the Cape. “I told him that I was proud and honored to play for him. He’s a great man and I’m sorry to see him leave.”
“It’s all about Butchy,” said Osvaldo Molina, a recent KSC Hall of Fame inductee who came down from Montreal. “This is about his legacy and paying respect. You come here and you see Butch’s footprints all over the place.”
Assembling his players for the last time prior to Saturday morning’s alumni game, Butcher had a chance to say thank you. The growls and bravado of the past were replaced with smiles, gratitude and, yes, a few tears. “I got them all together and just wanted to thank them for 43 years of great memories, and I just broke down,” Butcher said. “You always talk about coaches and their wins. The coaches might facilitate the wins, but the players still have to play and those guys played their hearts out for me.”
A spirited alumni game soon followed, with players from four generations turning back the clock for one final moment of glory on the pitch. Some were All-Americans, others were All-New England and All-Conference players, but they were all Keene State Owls. “It’s almost overwhelming. We all have the commonality of playing for Keene State,’ said Tod Silegy, a member of Butcher’s early teams in the ’70s. “Everyone likes each other. They even gave me the ball and I’m the oldest man on the pitch.”
Following the game, the players made the short walk over to the grass field that has been the Owls’ home since moving to Division III in 1997. They laughed and told stories about those special four years in their lives. “I was a senior in high school, ready to go into the Marine Corps, and he got me to come here. I got a degree and the rest is history,” said Pangalos. “I still ended up doing the Marine Corps a couple of years down the road. Butch the soccer coach made the drill sergeant a lot easier to deal with – I said, he can’t be any meaner than Butch was.”
“Ron has always been a great friend and a great inspiration for me and I just love to follow all that he does,” said Vic St. Pierre, a ’79 grad from Charlestown. “He helped me make some changes in my life and I think of him as a father figure, a leader in my life.”
“At first he seems very stern and grumpy, but as the years go on, you understand that he has the best interest of the players and he cares about you not only as a soccer player, but as a person,” said Luke Sisco, a 2010 grad.
And of course there was the usual ribbing between player and coach. “I thought he was old when we played for him,” said Ted McGahie, who played for the Owls in the mid-1970s. “I wish I look like that when I’m his age.”
The players formed a semi-circle around the center of the field, where the initials RB had been carved into the turf. “I looked around that circle at all the guys and I thought about how lucky I was to have a living legacy of players – many who followed me into the coaching profession,” said Butcher.
Prior to Saturday’s game, Keene State President Anne E. Huot and Athletic Director John Ratliff presented Butcher with a Keene State letter jacket. He then made his way down the gauntlet of players ready to take the sidelines for his final home game.
Current players like Brian Swindell and Scott Douglas knew this game was special. “We put everything on the line today. We’re playing for him today,” said Swindell. “It’s an honor to be on his last team.”
“You come out and see these guys here to support you and you want to make sure that the tradition continues,” said Douglas. “It’s hard to think about it because Butchy has been here for what seem like forever. To say you’re on his last team means a lot.”
With just a precious few games remaining in the regular season and hopefully a couple more in the tournament, the Butcher soccer era is coming to a close at Keene State. As former player and longtime associate coach Rick Scott noted, Sumner Joyce started the program and coached for 22 years, and Butcher made it into something special. “In the mid ’70s we built this program, and it means a lot to those guys in that era. Then the tradition just grew from there” said Scott. “All these guys had a great experience here. They all care about each other and care a lot about Butch and everything he’s done. That’s why they’re all back here to honor him.”
“He was a great influence in my life and I will remember him as long as I’m alive,” said D.J. Nordmark, a later member of Butcher’s bunch. ”Look what he’s done up here with the program and the beautiful field. He’s going to leave it in good hands no matter who takes over for him.”