Honeck: ?It?s been such a wonderful thing?

Hillsboro High School principal Dale Honeck said his ride from last-minute interim coach to a Class 3A state championship was better than he ever dreamed it could be.

“It’s the best experience I’ve ever had in coaching—not just today, or the (state) tournament, but working with these girls,” he said moments after his Trojans earned the first-place plaque with a 50-31 win Satur­day over Sacred Heart. 

“It has been such a wonderful thing,” he added.

Even in the afterglow of triumph, Honeck maintained his coaching stint will be a one-year run as he nears the end of his career in education at age 61.

“This has been my grand finale—right here, baby,” he said.

Honeck hesitantly agreed last June to take on the unfilled role of girls’ basketball coach. He previously had coached at the high school and college levels for some 23 years, but hadn’t blown a whistle since becoming a principal at Hugoton 15 years ago.

His five returning seniors had experienced three coaching changes in their final three seasons, and at the begining they knew Honeck only as a principal.

“We’ve had so much fun with Honeck this year,” said JuliAnne Chisholm, the Trojans’ senior leader. “It’s really been fun for all of us to get to know him, because before he was just the big principal.

“We didn’t even know he had picked up a basketball in his life before he coached us.”

Honeck said he thought long and hard before saying yes to the job. He had had a friend who had stepped back into coaching as a principal, and had suffered through a long, two-win season.

“Honestly, if I thought we had no tradition here and that we had no athletes, I probably wouldn’t have taken this job,” he said. “I thought we’d have a good team, but I never thought we’d win the state tournament. It’s just cool.”

Playing time

For Honeck, the best thing about leading a squad that won 23 games this season—and frequently by comfortable margins—is that it enabled him to accomplish his most important objective: making each player an integral part of the team.

“If we would have had all close games, and I would have had five, maybe six, kids a game not getting in, I think it would have been a bad season,” he said. “I think it would have been a negative.

“But the fact that we won, and I had an opportunity to play a lot of kids, made the job a lot more enjoyable. I didn’t have to look down at the bench at sad faces—kids who gave up and had no hope.”

 Honeck said his definition of success in high school sports is making everyone feel a signficiant part of the team.

“When you’re in high school (coaching), you want to win your games. But the thing is, you have to make people feel like they’re wanted, like they’re part of the system and that there’s hope for them.

“If people give up hope on that bench that they’re going to play, they will quit trying as hard in practice. They will become more of an attitude problem, more disappointed in themselves.

“What I wanted to do was come back and have a good experience—trying to be not a winner or loser, but just a person who builds esprit de corps, a person who builds an ‘I am somebody, I count’ kind of attitude all the way through the team.

“It may be that you will be the 13 person on the varsity, or that you’re the first sub coming into the game. But I wanted you all to have kind of an ego thing—that I didn’t beat your ego down, that I was able to bring it up.”

One team, together

To that end, all 20 girls who were part of Honeck’s squad practiced as a single unit all season—not as a “varsity” and “junior varsity.”

“Those kids (who played junior varsity) were the same as everybody else—they worked hard every day in practice,” Honeck said.

“Those kids were great, and they were 16-3 in their JV games. It was just kind of a dream year. They were such good kids—that’s the main thing about all of this.”

That his team peaked in the post-season to the point where they won their sub-state and state games by an average margin of more than 20 points was a great accomplishment, Honeck said—but not for the reasons most people might think.

“The thing that was so neat about the state and sub-state games is that every kid played in every game,” he said. “That’s going to be a memory for these kids for the rest of their lives.

“That is so good.”

Great assistants

In the same way that Honeck is slow to credit his personal coaching knowledge for the Trojans’ rise to a state title, he is quick to credit his assistant coaches, Dennis Boldt and Keli Chisholm, for the successful chemistry that developed on this year’s team.

“Dennis is really good with keeping communication open with kids, which isn’t my strong suit,” Honeck said. “I’m not a kidder. I don’t have that swagger with kids like he does. So that was really good.”

He said the fact that Keli Chisholm was the older sister of one of the team’s lead players never became an issue.

“Keli came in and became a coach to all of the kids,” Honeck said. “She’s not just JuliAnne’s supportive sister. She was a good coach for all of the kids and she was an extremely positive person on that team.”

Though Honeck’s priority is clearly on the academic side of high school these days, he maintains a healthy appreciation for the value of athletics—both for the kids and for a community that supports them.

“How many people are going to going to wear gold shirts and come up here and watch us take a state asssessment?” he said. “Nobody.

“That’s why athletics is such a great thing. It pulls people together, and when you’re winning, it’s good.”

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