Leave it to Ron Butcher to break the mold. On the threshold of becoming just the sixth men's collegiate soccer coach to reach the coveted milestone of 500 career wins, the Owl's longtime mentor has the rare distinction has the rare distinction of being indicted into the Keene State Alumni Athletic Hall of Fame while still an active coach.
And with good reason. Throughout his tenure, whether his team was in the NAIA of the NCAA, Division II or Division III, his goal for the Keene State's soccer program has been unwavering: Win.
Butcher's office walls serve as a pictorial history of his winning career. These are certificates marking his 100th, 200th, 300th and 400th career victories, photos and stories about past team members, and a cartoon caricature of the long-time coach - ball in one hand, whip in the other.
"In the early days, that was a very good description of me," said Butcher. "I used to be a disciplinarian, but times and athletes have changed." Now in his 35th season pacing the sidelines at KSC, Butcher has survived the rigors of coaching because he has been willing and able to make adjustments.
By his own admission, Butcher is from the old school of discipline. When he played sports at Weston (Mass.) High School and later at Plymouth State College, the word of the coach was gospel. As a netminder for the Plymouth Panthers in the mid-1960's, Butcher caught the coaching bug early. Devoting himself to his craft, he served a short stint at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville before arriving at Keene State in 1970.
Butcher nursed Keene State's program through its early NAIA days. He recalls legendary games against Castleton State, Husson and Plymouth State as if they were played yesterday, He readily recalls an epic eight-overtime game against Plymouth State in 1975 that ended in a 0-0 draw. A week later, the two rivals clashed in a six overtime deadlock "We had tremendous rivalries back then," said Butcher, who was inducted into the PSC Hall of Fame in 2001.
After his early success at Keene State, Butcher was forced to change gears abruptly when the program was elevated to Division II and entered the New England Collegiate Conference in 1982. Scouting, recruiting and athletic scholarshipsbecame just as important as the game on the field, and Butcher, already wearing many hats in Keene State's Athletic Department, set about the task of making sure his Owls would not be grounded. Although other programs had more resources, Keene State's soccer guru still found a way to win, directing the Owls to ther 1987 and 1990 ECAC crown.
The winning didn't stop with the colleges move to Division III in the fall of 1997. Since joining Division III, the Owls have earned six NCAA tournament berths and captured four Little East Conference championships.
"I told my wife if I ever won the big one, I'd probably retire," said Butcher. While luck hasn't been on Butcher's side in tournament play, he has his share of victories. WIth an overall record of 494-199-56 (.697 pct.) entering the 2005 season, Butcher is ranked second among all-time and active Division III coaches in wins, and has received numerous Coach of the Year awards and other coaching honors. His players have amassed a netful of superlatives over the years, with several going on to play in the professional ranks. It's no coincidence that 12 former players and three of his teams are already in the KSC Hall of Fame.
Though Butcher is justifiably proud of his winning numbers, 27 post-season tournament appearences, and other honors, he'd be the first to tell you that it's all about the players. "The recognition is nice, but let's face it: if you don't have great players, it doesn't matter. It still takes talent and committed players to win games. I've been very lucky over the years to have people who were dedicated to the program."
As far as Butcher is concerned, it doesn't matter what decade they played in - they are all considered family. "I think poeple have to understand we have a soccer family at Keene State," said Butcher. "When I cry, they cry. When I smile, they smile. One of the reasons I've never left is that I enjoy keeping in touch with everybody. That's something I think is lost in a bog (Division I) program. I've been to a lot of my players' weddings. Now their kids are getting married, and that's what makes you feel old."
There'll be plenty of smiles on the faces of all those players, past and present, when butcher captures his elusive 500th victory career victory this fall.
"I just hope it happens quickly," said Ron Butcher before the season started. "I remember when I was one win shy of my 100th win. The mother of one of my players baked eight cakes because we proceeded to go 0-5-3 in our next eight games. And I never got a piece of cake."