Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 28 November 2006 18:00When it was announced in June that Dale Honeck was a late appointment to lead the Hillsboro girls' basketball program, more than a few Trojan fans probably wondered: How will a high school principal do as a coach?
In truth, had they been more aware of his professional background when he was hired as HHS principal in 2000, folks may have been more justified to ask: How will a coach do as a high school principal?
The Iowa native had a resume 23 years long as a basketball coach when he accepted his first principal job 15 years ago at Hugoton.
"I've always loved basketball," Honeck said. "When I die, that's what I'll always think of myself as-a basketball coach. That was my life."
That part of his life started after he graduated as a three-sport high school athlete in Marshalltown, Iowa, and then as a basketball player at Marshalltown Community College and Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.
"I had the opportunity in high school and college to play under some of the best coaches in Iowa," Honeck said. "That was a good thing for me, and helped me get some grounding in coaching."
His first basketball coaching job was at a high school in Eddyville, Iowa, a town of around 1,000 people. After a couple years there, he accepted a graduate assistantship at the University of Virginia.
Once that was completed, Honeck accepted his first college coaching job at the College of the Albemarle, a state-funded community college in eastern North Carolina.
"That's where I got my grounding, really, in basketball," he said. "That's what I did all day long. I had some good teams and some good players."
After a three-year stint there, Honeck moved up to Southwest Minnesota State University, an NCAA Division II institution in Marshall, Minn., where he worked under Jon Wefald, who is now president of Kansas State University.
SMSU had just broken a 46-game losing streak, which he said explains why they hired such a young coach.
Honeck turned the program around and enjoyed three winning seasons before the trend began slipping back the other way again.
"It was a good experience, but I was 35 years old, and while I loved basketball, recruiting in college is everything," he said. "It doesn't matter how much you like the game or know it. When I had better players, I had better teams."
After seven years, he left SMSU and college coaching for a business opportunity in Lexington, N.C.
"I missed basketball so much that I went back into it in high school, which is really what I wanted to do," he said. "I just like high school, and I had a good high school experience. I could still do everything I wanted, but I didn't have to chase kids around (on the recruiting trail)."
After one year there, he returned to Iowa to accept a job at Muscatine High School, the 10th largest school in the state.
He thought it was everything he wanted in a job, but....
"It was not a pleasant experience," Honeck said. "I lost 17 straight games that first year."
His team's record did improve over the next two seasons. But to be closer to his wife's parents, the Honecks moved to Wilcox, Ariz., where he coached at the local high school for five years while he earned his administration certification at Northwestern Arizona University.
In 1991, Honeck was hired as principal at Hugoton High in southwest Kansas.
"I thought forever basketball would be behind me," he said. "After 23 years of coaching, I was ready to say I'd like to be a school administrator."
"For 15 years I didn't blow a whistle or talk basketball with anybody," he added. "And it was all right."
Until this past summer, that is, when the local school administration was still searching for a girls' basketball coach in mid-summer after a couple of leads didn't pan out.
Aware of Honeck's coaching background, Superintendent Gordon Mohn and Activities Director Max Heinrichs raised the idea of reviving that part of his career.
"I said to Gordon, 'I can't even find my whistle-I don't think so,'" Honeck said with a chuckle. "Time went on, I went home and thought about it a bit more. I went back to Gordon and said, 'You know, I might do that for a year, or whatever.' I kind of wanted to do it one more time because I loved doing it."
The board of education approved the idea, and arrangements were made to give Honeck some staff assistance for routine office work.
On June 19 Honeck had his first meeting with the Trojan players and conducted "a great summer camp" with the help of a former player he had recruited while at SMSU, Haywood Boston.
"It's really exciting for me," Honeck said. "We have a great bunch of kids and I'm looking forward to the season."
Honeck said he is aware of a few other principals in Kansas who also coach, but the combination is rare. Most people have had their fill of coaching once they become principals, he said, and the job of being one is too time-consuming once they're in it.
Honeck said his dual role is working out all right so far, but not without some challenges.
"Where it affects me most is that we have a lot of meetings, and there are teachers who come in at 3:30 and have their issues-and I'm out of the office," he said.
"The good thing is, some kids get to know me in a different way, and I get to be part of the school in a different way-which is good.
"As a principal, you really don't have many relationships with the kids," he added. "You actually develop some of your best relationships with some of the kids that are the most problematic. And those relationships are not always the best relationships.
"Coaches get to know the kids. Kids just see a principal as the guy who sort of walks around, sits in classes and hands out detentions."
Honeck said when he met with his players in June, one of the first things he did was tell them about his coaching background.
"I think it was kind of shock for them," he said. "They had to think about this a little bit. So they're getting to know me a little better, and honestly, I'm more upbeat now even though I have a few more issues with time and all that."
For all his experiences in coaching, this is Honeck's first stab at being the head basketball coach of a girls' team.
"It could be a mistake, but I'm trying not to do anything different as far as teaching the game of basketball," he said.
But Honeck said he understands the differences in communication styles between girls and boys.
"I don't really yell at them, but I do have a loud voice and talk at them loud," he said. "When I do, my voice has a tone of immediacy.
"Being where I am in life now, I'm a little more mellow and I know girls are more social," he added. "When practice starts. I let them visit and talk about their prom dresses if they want to. But when we're ready to go, I blow the whistle and we go."
Honeck said he has committed to only one year of coaching at this point, but may consider a second year if it seems to be the best solution for the school. But two years would be the absolute limit; Honeck said he plans to retire after the 2007-08 school year.
"They may get tired of me as coach," he said with a smile. "It may be only one year."