By AUSTIN COLBERT
Rick Keltner, who just completed his 29th season as the boys' basketball coach at Hays High School, has been passionate about coaching for a long time.
Prior to coming to Hays, Keltner spent eight years at Tipton High School where he was the football and basketball coach. He didn't have much at the time, and even climbed a ladder to tape a little wooden flag to the top of the scoreboard before each game so they would have a flag for the Star Spangled Banner.
And Keltner loved every second of it.
"I thought I was in the big time," Keltner said. "Where you are at, you got to make it the big time."
Keltner has kept this passion throughout his time at Hays High, where he has had 22 winning seasons in 29 years, and none were better than the 2013-14 squad.
He guided the Indians to a school record 23 wins and a fourth-place finish in the Class 5A state tournament in Topeka this season. En route he won the Gerald Mitchell Hays City Shootout for the seventh time in school history, won the Dodge City Tournament of Champions title for the first time since 1955, and won the Western Athletic Conference championship for the first time since 2006.
For this reason he is the boys' Coach of the Year on the 36th Annual HDN All-Area Team. This is the fifth time Keltner has received this honor, the first since 2007.
"I think coach deserved it this year and it was a good way to send us seniors out letting him get the coach of the year," Hays High senior Kade Parker said. "Coach knew how to work everybody in their different spots and everything ... he knew how to control the game."
Two years ago Hays High went just 6-15 and the freshman and sophomores at the time would never have guessed 23 wins would be possible as juniors and seniors. They went 14-8 a season ago, including a first-round loss in the 5A state tournament.
Then everything came together this season with a 23-2 record and the Indians were just a few possessions away from playing for the state title for the first time since 1944.
"I've told guys before, I didn't work any harder as a coach this year than I did three years ago. I guarantee it," Keltner said. "It's truly an honor and I'm humbled by it. But such things come when you have good players and a good coaching staff. So I'm thankful for that. I've just been blessed as a coach to get to watch these guys develop."
Keltner will lose six seniors off this year's team, but will return two-time reigning WAC player of the year Brady Werth and sophomore guard Isaiah Nunnery, among others, next season.
And Keltner's passion for the sport certainly hasn't faded, as he is just as excited for next season as he has been for the 29 seasons prior. As for the seniors, they are hoping their school record for wins doesn't last too long.
"I know in a few years when we come back and watch Hays High, we obviously hope for the best and hope they actually break our record," Parker said. "But it's great being a part of that. Two years ago we never thought we were going to be 23-0 going into the semifinals for state. But we believed in each other and knew we could get there this year. It's a big part of all of our careers."