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Keeny's Impact Celebrated
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2019-06-19

Select HERE to view the video of the event.

 

            In December of 1959, after learning from his sister – who was teaching sixth

grade at Pennsburg Elementary School – that Upper Perkiomen High School was searching for new head football coach, Dick Werkheiser contacted his friend Bill Keeny in Missouri. The next time they spoke, Keeny, who took the job, offered Werkheiser the job as coach of the freshman team. A biology teacher at a Berks County high school, Werkheiser didn't hesitate in accept the offer, which shorted his daily commute.

            "I figured it was going to be a good situation," said Werkheiser, who was living in Allentown when he applied for the job.

            Nearly 60 years later, the school celebrated the life of William L. Keeny, 84, who passed away April 14. On Saturday, members of his family, friends, former colleagues and players gathered in the school's auditorium to remember his character, accomplishments and his contributions to the players and the community.

            Four former players and one contemporary remembered his impact during the event in the high school auditorium on June 15.

            "[Keeny] left the earth with hundreds of men indebted to him," said Dr. Kevin Fox, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "They're all out there in the world trying to pay him back."

            From 1960 to 1980, he accumulated a record of 104-101-7 and captured two Bux-Mont League titles, including an outright crown in 1966. Relying on ingenuity and discipline, he converted the Indians from a league doormat into a perennial contender. 

            Jim Mich, who coached with Keeny in the first annual Montgomery County All-Star Football and on the Kutztown University staff, said he displayed organization, passion, patience and an ability to teach.

            Shirley Keeny described her late husband as a natural born leader.  "Bill knew where he wanted to go, and he knew how to get there," she said during the event.

            According to Fox, a 1972 graduate, Bill Keeny asked his players to learn to sacrifice for the good of the team and discipline themselves. "When, you've done this, you will learn respect."

            But Keeny's greatest impact may have been on the students he coached. Bob Witman, a 1968 graduate, credited the coach for providing direction to his life and inspiring him to follow a similar path.  "He cared about everybody," said Witman, who lives in Charlotte, N.C. 

            Dave Keeny, a 1978 Upper Perkiomen graduate, described his father as a teacher and leader for anyone who would listen. He said Bill Keeny's two greatest skills were an ability to communicate and get people to believe they could be better than they were.

            Bill Keeny, a graduate of Pottsville High School who played quarterback at Muhlenberg College, was serving in the National Guard when Werkheiser contacted him about the opening. Werkheiser informed his former Mules teammate that the rural community with a small high school in western Montgomery County, with a team in the midst of a 17-game losing streak, was looking for a new coach.

            The Indians, who won just four games in the five previous season, continued to struggle during Keeny's first season. With less than 30 players on the roster, they went 0-10, including a 71-6 road loss to Central Bucks.  Near halftime, the public address announcer referred to the team as "Rinky Dinks." Shirley Keeny said her husband was upset with his team's "lack of try."
Bill Keeny demanded total commitment from his players.

            According to Werkheiser, he removed some players from the team who chose to go on Labor Day vacation in the early years.  "He really set a tone," said Werkheiser, 84, who spent 18 years on Keeny's staff and still lives in Upper Hanover Township.

            After that first season, sitting at their kitchen counter in their home on Macoby Street, Shirley and Bill Keeny questioned the decision to leave Pottsville.  "We wondered if we did the right thing," she said. "Bill was never used to losing. But he was drawn by pride to improve the program."

            According to Shirley, her husband worked hard to better involve the community. She said he cajoled a local lumber yard to donate the wood for a press box, and convinced the football booster club to begin videotaping all the games.

            "I can't stress this enough," Shirley Keeny said. "It took the entire community to help turn the program around."

            On the field, the head coach delegated authority to a group of trusted assistants, which included Walt Schmidt and Mike Duka, both of whom were on the staff when Keeny and Werkheiser arrived. However, Keeny had the final say on all important decisions.

            "Let's put it this way," the head coach told the Quakertown Free Press in December of 1975. "We feel we have a very democratic process here. They all have one vote, and I have two.'

            On the field, the team displayed gradual improvement. It went 4-4-2 in 1961 and 6-4 in 1962.

            "It felt like something special was happening," Steve Moyer said.
            On Thanksgiving Day in 1963, after completing his paper route, Moyer walked to the high school in anticipation for Upper Perkiomen's annual meeting with Souderton. At 7:30 a.m., Bill Keeny picked him up on Penn Street and gave him a ride to the game. Moyer, who was in eighth grade, watched the local team win the game and a share of the league title.

            "1963 was a magical year," Moyer said.

            Three seasons later, Moyer helped lead the team to a 9-1 record and the outright league title. On Thanksgiving Day in 1966, he caught two touchdown passes Bill Gebert in a 21-12 victory over Souderton.

            "The players had no idea how good they could be," said Moyer, who posted a stellar career at the University of Pittsburgh. "The last two games were unbelievable."

            That season, the Indians utilized 22 different players on offense and defense "with guys to spare," according to Fox. The offense also featured an efficient passing attack.

            "Coach Keeney had to be innovative," Moyer said, fighting back tears several times during his remarks. "We were the smallest team in the league, so he had to figure out a different way."

            Off the field, Keeny stressed the importance of education to his players and his children. According to Dave Keeny, his parents created an "incredibly positive household. He said he and his siblings were always on a track "to success and winning no matter the path."

            As a 140-pound sophomore, Witman talked his mother into getting him out of a morning practice session during the first day of practice. "Tell them I'm sick," Witman said.

            As he walked into locker room prior to the afternoon session, the coach pulled Witman into office and admonished him for missing a practice, then implored him to take responsibility for himself.

            "He cared about me, and I was the worst player on the team," said Witman, who described himself as a scrub lineman.

            Following the ceremony, Witman admitted that the comments provided much needed guidance. He grew to love the sport so much that he wanted nothing more to play the sport in college. 

            At Northwest Missouri State, Witman described himself as an undersized lineman who didn't think he could compete. But he held his own against bigger players on the first day of practice, and realized it was because Keeny prepared him to succeed on the field.

            Witman quickly realized that his high school team beat opponents with bigger players and better athletes because it practiced harder and learned better techniques.  "This was the coaching that stuck with me," he said.

            Witman went on to coach high school football for 39 years in Dallas, Texas and Charlotte.  At the Charlotte Country Day School, he won eight state championships and had a 219-167 record. He worked to teach the same values and lessons instilled in him by Keeny.

            "I loved going to work every day," Witman said. "I don't think I could have done it without him."


 

 

 

 

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