Sometimes it’s not just about the game, but the relationships you build on and off the field that have the most impact.
On Saturday, April 13, Keene State Men’s Soccer team held their fourth annual alumni game, bringing in nearly 25 alumni players back to their old stomping grounds. According to former Men’s Soccer coach Ron Butcher, this tradition of bringing alumni back to Keene to play the current team has been happening every year since the 1974-1975 academic school year. Butcher expressed his gratitude to the alumni, saying, “We feel so blessed with the alumni we’ve had playing with us over the years.” He also went on to say, “These former players are so loyal to the soccer program and to Keene State it’s unbelievable, and I just feel so blessed to have coached all of these guys except for maybe four or five of them.”
Ricky Howard, ‘91, who played as a midfielder/forward under Butcher said playing soccer at Keene State was a “wonderful experience.” In addition, Howard said he tries to make the alumni game every opportunity he gets. Howard said, “It’s a great way to reconnect with the guys, and I’ve always connected with Keene [alumni] ever since I left. It’s always been great to have that family atmosphere.” Howard also noted that the future of the Men’s Soccer program is very positive. “I think coach (Rick) Scott has done an excellent job since he’s taken over. I know it’s always difficult recruiting players, but I think he’s done an excellent job with what he has, and he’s only getting better and stronger with it.”
Kaleb Lique-Naitove, ‘15, played under both Ron Butcher and Rick Scott. He describes the transition as “easy,” playing under Butcher for three years and then Scott for his last year. Lique-Naitove said, “Rick’s a close friend off the field and so is Butcher.” He also added, “I’m a community member now, so it’s good coming back and seeing the guys.” Lique-Naitove mentioned that he tries to make the alumni game every year when he can and “test his skills against the young kids.” As a coach, Lique-Naitove expressed his optimism for the program, saying, “…the culture, you can see, is really instilled and solidified. So for everyone coming in, that standard’s going to be there and they’re going to mend quickly into the program. I think a championship’s in our future, very shortly.”
Current assistant coach Matt Caron, ‘06, says it’s hard to describe life as an alumni and assistant coach. “I love it. It’s a part time job but this isn’t work for me. It’s fun to be able to stay involved in the game and stay connected with my former teammates,” Caron said. “…it’s nice to help build the legacy of the program.”
Senior Sam Binogono said the fact that he was a soccer alumni didn’t hit him until he got on the field to play this game. Binogono said, “It feels weird, you know? Spending four years here playing with my brothers and now I’m playing against them.” Binogono said he hopes to make it out to the alumni games in the future, but after accepting a job in Denver, Colorado, he is unsure if he will be able to make many. Binogono also added that he’ll miss traveling with the team the most: “Being with them is crazy. We made a lot of great memories, especially with coach, and I won’t see them until whenever I come back.”
Coach Rick Scott is responsible for setting up the alumni soccer game every fall and spring. He expressed his love for these games, saying, “This is a lot of fun. This helps my team connect with our alumni. They start to appreciate the tradition we have here at Keene State.” Scott noted that these games are a part of the reason why the connection between former players and alumni is so strong. “We’ve always managed to create that connection every year. We don’t skip a year with the alumni game, and now we have two a year, and that has so much value,” Scott said. “It’s just important that they (the players) know how this program came about.” Scott also said that he plans on keeping this a tradition for years to come.
Sophomore Connor Downey said he loves the atmosphere of these games. “It’s nice to see everyone come back. There’s a lot of young alumni that graduated last year so it’s nice to see them again and play with them.” Downey said. Downey also expressed how important it is to stay connected with former players and teammates. He said, “Even after college, the alumni can help get you jobs. It’s definitely important to keep in touch with them and just friends in general.” Downey also added, “You want to make friends that last forever? This (Keene State) is the place to do it.”
The game ended in a 3-3 draw, but there were smiles on everyone’s faces after the game. The game may mean nothing in terms of competition, but it’s the relationships you make on and off the field that sometimes matter more than the game itself.
Luke Stergiou can be contacted