Few schools, if any, in this region can match the athletic success Liberty-Benton has been lucky enough to have over the past 25 years.
Dean Butler, while he never coached a game, meet or match during his time as athletic director, was a big part of that success.
The school’s former longtime athletic director and current Blanchard Valley Conference commissioner died suddenly at his home on Tuesday at age 67.
“When you think of Liberty-Benton, you think of Dean Butler. There won’t be another like him,” said veteran girls track and cross country coach Pat Wagner.
The walls of the gymnasium at Liberty-Benton are filled with league, district, regional and state championship banners celebrating the school’s athletic achievements.
Liberty-Benton had won or shared just six BVC championships before Butler took over as the school’s athletic director in 1979.
They’ve won 114 since.
Butler, who retired as AD in 2011, never wanted to take credit for the school’s athletic success. He was happy just to put the pieces in place and watch the school’s athletes succeed on the local, regional and state level.
Butler’s four-year run as the school’s boys basketball coach ended in 1978. He was 34-42 as head coach.
But it was the following year, as an athletic director, when he really found his calling.
“Decision-making and organization, that was what he was great at. Dean knew everything about athletics,” Wagner said.
“He mentored us without telling us what to do. I know there were days when we made each other mad. We knew he was the boss and I’ll always remember those times that he straightened me out.”
Perhaps Butler’s best move as athletic director was to bring Steve Williman on board as the school’s boys basketball coach.
Williman retired this year after a hall of fame career at L-B. He attributes much of the school’s athletic success to Butler.
“I think the success we’ve had in all of the sports at L-B is because of Dean’s leadership and commitment all of those years. He was always at the school working,” Williman said.
“But to me, he wasn’t just an AD, he was always a very good friend. A good family man. This is a tough loss for the entire community.”
Being the AD wasn’t a job for Butler, it was something he loved.
“I can remember numerous times Dean saying being the AD wasn’t a job for him, he enjoyed all of those days coming in to school,” Williman said. “It was a job he was made for. He gave us as coaches the freedom and all of the support we ever needed.”
Butler wasn’t shy about giving his two cents when needed.
After the death of Wagner’s daughter, he was ready to give up coaching. After a phone call and a little wisdom from Dean, he decided to continue coaching.
“After my daughter died I didn’t think I could go on. He told me to take some time and think about it, and it was one of the best pieces of advice I ever got,” Wagner said.
“One of the kids asked me today if I was going to cry,” Wagner said. “I told him you are going to learn some day that you have to remember how people lived and by doing that you can lose some of those tears.”
Current L-B co-athletic director Nate Irwin is just grateful that Butler gave him a chance to be the school’s girls basketball coach at such a young age.
“I loved that he was an old-school guy. He and his wife Vicki sure did a lot of things right because they raised some outstanding kids that were successful in athletics and life after,” Irwin said.
“I learned a lot from Dean, about being a parent, dad, coach and AD.”
Courier reporters venturing up to the press box to cover an L-B football game or BVC track meet would encounter Butler, always greeting them with a smile and some good-natured ribbing.
The conversation would eventually turn to what Dean’s kids or grandkids were doing, and getting the latest scuttlebutt on the area sports scene.
Without Dean, the press box at L-B just won’t be the same.
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