The glorious past meets a bright future...
There's just no other way to say it: Honesdale's varsity football program has fallen on hard times lately.
Over the course of the past decade, the Hornets have managed a winning percentage of only .250 and made the playoffs on just one occasion.
A once-proud tradition of gridiron excellence has suffered from a number of issues, ranging from PIAA re-classification, constant re-shuffling of divisions by the LFC, declining enrollment and interest in other fall sports.
However, Wayne Highlands officials took a bold step toward helping the Hornets re-capture that old Red & Black magic on Wednesday morning with a major announcement.
Butch is Back
According to Superintendent Gregory Frigoletto, the school board has voted to bring Hall of Fame coach Allen “Butch” Keller back into the fold for the 2017 season.
Keller's name is synonymous with Honesdale football … the man who was instrumental in bringing football back to Honesdale after a decades-long absence.
Starting in 1968, Butch built the Hornet program into a perennial contender at the league and district level.
He remains the all-time winningest coach in school history, in addition to being a Hall of Famer and current Scranton Lions Club “Man of the Year.”
“I couldn't be happier that Butch has decided to come back,” Frigoletto said.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and his ability. Butch is Honesdale football. He started the program and now he's back to help us get it moving in a positive direction again.”
Keller will serve as a paid assistant under head coach Mike Jurkowski, who is equally pleased to welcome back this living legend.
“Butch knows everything about high school football and I'm thrilled to have him back,” Mike said. “This is a big plus for the program.
“I have a huge amount of respect for all that Butch has accomplished over the years, not just as a coach but as a teacher too.”
For his part, Keller is genuinely grateful at being asked to rejoin the program that's always been closest to his heart.
“I definitely have fond memories of my time here,” Butch said. “We worked really hard to build this program pretty much from scratch. I've been around the block a few times and I want to do anything I can to help out.”
Keller's work with Jurkowski and his young staff will start immediately. After all, heat acclimation workouts begin Monday, August 7.
Double sessions commence a week later, followed by the season's first scrimmage against Hanover Area.
Honesdale kicks off its LFC campaign on Friday, Aug. 25 at home versus Wilkes Barre GAR.
Butch Keller is a graduate of Tunkhannock High School where he starred in four sports and amassed an incredible 17 varsity letters.
Keller attended Bucknell University, where he played freshman football. He then transferred to Mansfield and became a standout on the gridiron and on the baseball diamond.
Following graduation, Keller arrived on the scene at Honesdale and promptly began reviving a football program that had lain dormant for generations.
Over the course of the next two decades, he piled up nearly 160 wins and led the Hornets to three Suburban Conference titles (1980, 1983, 1984).
The Red & Black also advanced to the Eastern Conference Class B championship game twice, but came out on the short end against Marian Catholic and Hanover Area.
Keller also coached at Western Wayne, Holy Cross and Bishop O'Hara. He was a volunteer assistant at Wallenpaupack Area and Delaware Valley.
However, some of his most notable achievements came with the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Eagles.
As head coach of the country's most successful semipro franchise, Keller presided over three national championship teams.
He earned Coach of the Year accolades three times and was named Empire Footbal League “Coach of the Decade” for the 1990s.
On the Horizon
Numbers have been a serious problem for HHS, especially in the past few years.
The Hornet staff is already working on ideas to re-energize the student-athlete pool.
“We need bodies,” Butch set bluntly. “There are some really good athletes here who aren't playing a fall sport and we'd love to have them come out.”
“We're excited about the future and we really want to attract quality kids,” he said. “If there's anyone out there interested in coming out for the team, please reach out and we'll get the process going.”
For his part, Frigoletto applauds the efforts that are already underway.
“I believe that we're going to see some really great things in the next few years,” he said. “We all understand this is a process and that miracles don't happen overnight.
“But, I think we have a very good coaching staff already in place. And, with Butch Keller's wealth of experience added to the mix … well, we're all excited to see what can happen.”