A straw hat in springtime could only mean Coach Keith Woods was working his magic for Hickory High’s track & field program.
Woods worked with Hickory student-athletes from 2002-17. Though competitive, he would offer instruction to any athlete asking his advice, regardless of their school affiliation.
While Woods passed away unexpectedly last December, his legacy will endure in the hearts and minds of family, friends, fellow coaches and athletes who benefitted from his boundless energy and enthusiasm.
“He was my roommate ... he was my mentor ... he was my friend – a coaches’ coach. He didn’t just concentrate his effort on what he excelled at; he always was a part of every runner, every sprinter, every distance person. He loved all of it,” related Hickory High Head Coach Jim Boyd. “His passion was for everything – his family ... pizza ... our team. We were so fortunate, and I’m so thankful that I had an opportunity to, not just work with him, but tell him how I felt about him and what a great influence he was on me.”
During Saturday’s 19th annual City of Hermitage Invitational – named in Woods’ memory – Boyd beamed from under the brim of a straw hat ... one of Woods’. It was bestowed to Boyd from Woods’ widow, Donna.
Woods worked with a myriad of athletes in the throwing events, counting 16 state champions (13 outdoors; 3 indoors) and 29 District 10 champions.
“He had tremendous vision for potential,” Boyd began from Hornet Stadium’s infield. “He thought there was something in someone, he just would bring it out. He would find a way to bring out the best in his athletes, and he did it year after year after year.
“I would say his patience,” Boyd replied when asked for Woods’ strong suit as a coach. “His ability to see something in someone and be patient enough to know what had to be done, and then take every step to make sure they reached (their potential), give them the best training – give them the best of everything.”
Boyd, a bemused smile creasing his face at the recollection, continued, “He had (throwing) circles at his house, in his yard ... throwing implements we don’t even use in Pennsylvania ... he had a place for them to (throw) in his basement, with big cargo nets. He always went an extra step to help everyone.
“He just shined, and I think that’s why a lot of people were here (at Saturday’s invitational), because of him and his influence on them.”
Hickory has become one of the PIAA’s premier programs in track & field. Last spring the Hornets harvested the Class AA commonwealth crown, while the Lady Hornets’ 2-year reign ended as they were runners-up. At Saturday’s invite, however, the Lady Hornets had a “field day,” pardon the pun, with one of Woods’ proteges, Michaela Burkhauser, winning the shot put crown. Jen Neider, another Woods’ product who enjoyed successful scholastic (winning a state championship for Hickory) and collegiater (at Youngstown State University) careers is serving in Woods’ stead, coaching throwers.
“When I came into this role (as head coach) I wanted to do the same thing on the track. I wanted to help him, instead of (throwers) just carrying our team all the time,” Boyd explained. “I felt like the track (athletes) finally started stepping up and really started to excel and we become a whole team. It happened in the weight room first,” Boyd continued. “ ... My sprinters would walk in and see what (the throwers) were throwin’ around – bigger weights – and my kids didn’t know that was possible. And within months it started to happen and they started to believe. And after a few championships started to take hold, the kids don’t even question; they believe.
“Other coaches ask us how do we get so many kids in the weight room? (The athletes) know, and that’s a huge part of it, and (Woods) helped me have the same belief – that strength is gonna carry us. His ability to help us share just brought us all together. It elevated our game because we had a perfect example of what’s capable, and he showed us it could be done.
“Now our kids know that, and they’ve done the same thing. It’s fed off each other (field athletes and track athletes), and it’s brought our level up to where (Hickory’s throwers) were already.”
Woods was a great amateur athlete and coached his own kids to considerable success as Hickory High throwers. While others his age may have golfed or fished or taken trips to camp in the mountains, Woods would coach. Regarding his legacy, Boyd said,
“His unending giving to this program. He could’ve gone anywhere, but he stayed here. ... his loyalty to us. But,” Boyd said with a smile, “he’d never give away ALL his secrets. He’d see another kid and he’d say, ‘I think I can make him better, but I’m not gonna say anything.’ He was such a genuine person. A coaches’ coach. He did everything in his power to do what was best for the athlete and the kids.
“I think sometimes he was not always looked at in the most positive manner ‘cause he was willing to break some fences and bang some boards,” Boyd reflected, “but it was because (the issues at hand and how they impacted his athletes) were worth it. He kept doing it over and over. People say, ‘Oh, we want better recruits.’ But he made great people out of what he had. He was a great coach, and great coaches coach. And he did that.”
Boyd said in addition to dedicating the annual invitational in Woods’ name – “I’m so thankful (Woods’ family was) here, and really got a chance to, hopefully, understand how much he meant to us and this program,” Boyd said – a scholarship fund is being established in Woods’ honor. It will be annually awarded to track & field student-athletes.
Despite this spring’s inclement weather, listening to Hickory High senior standouts Morgan Donatelli and Will Gruber, even without Woods – or more accurately, because of him – Hickory High’s program has hopes to hoist more hardware come May at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium. And Jim Boyd will be there, bearing another straw hat.
“(Donna Woods) gave me the choice. She had his ‘state’ hats, but I can’t wear ‘em yet. (Woods) was very superstitious, so we only break those out on special occasions,” Boyd said, promising, “I’ll try to wear the hat and make him proud. He was the best, just a joy to be with. I’ll miss that.”
ED FARRELL is assistant sports editor for The Herald. E-mail him at email@example.com.
Three Mercer County area girls posted individual wins in field events at the City of Hermitage Keith Woods Memorial Invitational Saturday at Hickory High School facilities.
Sharpsville’s Madeline Breneman won the triple jump (35-1.25); Hickory’s Michaela Burkhauser topped the shot put (38-1.5); and Emma McDermott of Slippery Rock copped first in the long jump (16-3).
Hickory’s Morgan Donatelli was a winner in 4 events Saturday: the 200 and 400 and 400- and 1600-meter relays.
Results of the girls field events and the 1600-meter relays were not submitted in time for publication on Saturday.
1600 boys relay – 1. Reynolds (Gill, Gill, Duffy, Forrester) 3:30.39; 2. Hickory 3:34.78; 3. Brookville 3:37.35; 4. Grove City 3:39.93; 5. Sharpsville 3:41.56; 6. Gen. McLane 3:42.17.
Girls Team standings and key: Archbishop Moeller (AB), Brookville (B), Commodore Perry (CP), Corry (Cor), Erie (E), Franklin (F), Gen. McLane (GM), George Junior Republic (GJR), Grove City (GC), Hickory (H), Kennedy Catholic (KC), Keystone (Key), Mercer (Mer), Moniteau (Mon), New Castle (NeCaHi), North East (NE), Oil City (OC), Redbank Valley (RV), Riverview (Rw), Reynolds (R), Salem (Sal), Sharpsville (Sv), Slippery Rock (SR), West Middlesex (WM), Wilmington (Wil).
1600 girls relay – 1. Hickory (Donatelli, O’Kresik, Schnolis, Bell) 4:09.87; 2. Wilmington 4:20.46; 3. Grove City 4:21.99; 4. Reynolds 4:25.55; 5. Brookville 4:26.86; 6. Slippery Rock 4:27.18.
Shot Put – 1 Michaela Burkhauser (H) 38-1.5; 2 Caitlyn Marx (Sal) 36-9.5; 3 Cambrie Campbell (Mon) 36-4.75; 4 Maryann Ackerman (SR) 34-5.5; 5 Ashley Bartels (GC) 34-3; 6 Sara Shabloski (CM) 31-1.5.
Discus – 1 Caitlyn Marx (Sal) 151-7; 2 Michaela Burkhauser (H) 128-4.5; 3 Cambrie Campbell (Mon) 125-7; 4 Taylor Mears (H) 115-9.5; 5 Katie Brown (Key) 111-4; 6 Lillian Hill (NE) 105.
Javelin – 1 Cambrie Campell (Mon) 136-11; 2 Lillian Hill (NE) 130-4.5; 3 Tess Cadman (R) 123-11; 4 Anna Schmid (GC) 122-7; 5 Ryann Brundage (Cor) 117-11; 6 Sara Ruth (Wil) 116-8.
High jump – 1 Carlye Zahner (NE) 5-3; 2 Emma Isenberg (GC) 5-1; 3 Jenna Heitzenrater (SR) 5-1; 4 (tie) Grace King (OC), Ryann Brundage (Cor), Jazmine Boyle (Wil) 4-11.
Pole Vault – 1 Kendall Grossman (Mon) 10-0; 2 Mattisen Drake (B) 10-0; 3 Summer Stevenson (OC) 10-0; 4 Kate Brown (H) 9-0; Meredith Glavach (Wil) 8-6; Brianna Peters (NE) 8-6.
Long Jump – 1 Emma McDermott (SR) 16-3, 2 (tie) Madison Johnson (B), Grace King (OC) 16-1.5; 4 Amiyah Lesczczynski (E) 15-9.25; 5 Gina Zimmer (Cor) 15-7; 6 Dani MacBeth (B) 16-6.5.
Triple Jump – 1 Madeline Breneman (Sv) 35-1.25; 2 Emily Sarver (SR) 34-3.75; 3 Emma McDermott (SR) 33-9.25; 4 Grace King (OC) 33-3; 5 Ashlee Wherthy (SR) 32-10.75; 6 Emma Isenberg (GC) 32-10.75.