Loyalty was a defining trait during Ron Butcher’s 43-year coaching tenure with the Keene State College’s men’s soccer team.
He expected a full commitment from every one of his players, and he gave that commitment back in turn.
That loyalty will be on display in full force Saturday at the Owl Athletic Complex. Following Keene State’s alumni game at noon and the Owls’ 3 p.m. contest against Rhode Island College, a dedication ceremony will be held renaming the soccer field in Butcher’s honor.
The ceremony will be followed by a reception, where alums from across generations will be able to share 43 years worth of stories about playing for the coach they call “Butch.”
“This is a very well-deserved honor,” said current men’s soccer coach Rick Scott, one of Butcher’s former players and former assistant coaches. “He loves Keene State and loves Keene State soccer. For us, he was not only a coach, he was a mentor, and when you graduate, he becomes a friend.”
Often, these kinds of dedications are done posthumously, but Scott and many other alums fought hard to get the college to honor the program’s winningest coach while he was still around to see it, rather than having it someday named “Dr. Ron Butcher Memorial Field.”
Scott — who played under Butcher from 1973-76 and served as his assistant coach for 22 years before taking the helm in 2014 — said he expects to see alumni from every decade of Butcher’s career, from the 1970s to the 2010s.
Among the expected attendees are all-time Keene State leading scorer Mickey Rooney; all-time assists leader Graham Jones; All-American goalie Tad Delorm; All-American backs Ian Wilson and Trevor Franklin; Osvaldo Molina, who will be coming down from Canada; and several members of the 1983 team that will be inducted into the Keene State Hall of Fame tonight, including Alex Horn, Casey Banks and John McCully, the latter of whom now watches his son, James McCully, play for the Owls.
“Men’s soccer has a very loyal alumni base,” Butcher said. “At least 280 kids have passed through my program over 43 years … and I would say that 90 percent of those players are still loyal to the soccer program, always come back for homecomings and alumni days and events like this.”
Butcher’s list of accomplishments is lengthy, for sure. But to summarize, he coached the Owls from 1970-2013, posting a record of 596-263-72. He led the team to 31 league tournament appearances and 11 conference tournament titles, and oversaw the team’s transition from the NAIA to NCAA Division III to Division II and then back to Division III, finding success at all levels.
The field to soon bear his name is the fourth pitch he’s called home over the course of his career, and Scott says it truly is the House that Butch Built.
The first field was where the tennis courts are now; then the team relocated to Sumner Joyce Field, which today is used for a variety of events; then the Owls played on the turf field now used for field hockey and lacrosse. Butcher was behind the movement to get the current, all-grass field built.
“He spearheaded that whole effort,” Scott said. “I was here with him during that, and the wheeling and dealing and the bartering that went on to get that stadium, the fundraising that he did … he just spearheaded everything.
“He wanted the nicest grass field stadium in New England, and I think we have that; it’s as nice a stadium as anywhere.”
Even after all he’s given to the college, Butcher continues to stick around.
After a short-lived retirement, he took on a part-time gig working in marketing for the Keene State athletic department. He works numerous events, books groups to perform at halftime of games, runs the college’s golf tournament, and does various other things to help promote the Owls’ brand.
“I think I’m a person that likes to be around people,” Butcher said. “I tried retirement for three, four weeks, probably didn’t give it long enough, but I knew then that I needed to be around people, and I love to be around young people because they keep you young, they keep you up to date and they keep you motivated.”
Scott’s relationship with Butcher evolved from player-and-coach to what it’s now been for decades: friend. “He’s a very loyal friend,” Scott said. “You can depend on him, you can count on him for anything. If you’re in a bind, I don’t care what kind of a bind it is, he’s gonna help you out.”
It was loyalty that inspired Butcher’s former players to push for this honor. And Butcher, true to form, remains loyal to the guys that always gave it their all on the field for him.
“As I look up at the sign, it’s gonna say I think ‘Dr. Ron Butcher Field’ or something like that, as I look at that sign, it’s not about me,” Butcher said. “All of you players are responsible for that. Every one of you players who played for me are responsible for that name up there, because you guys are the ones who stuck with me through the good times and the bad.”