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Coach Bill Keedy: Hall of Famer

Bill Keedy once dreamed of being a college quarterback. That dream ended, ironically, in the process of living out another dream — playing quarterback in the Arkansas High School All-Star Game.

It was August 1963, and the all-star game was a big event on the summer sports calendar in Arkansas. Coaches from across the state would gather in Little Rock for their annual clinic. On Saturday afternoon of that week, the basketball game (there was only a boys’ game back then) was played at Barton Coliseum. On Saturday night, the football game was played at War Memorial Stadium.

Keedy, who had been raised at Newport, was a quarterback for the East squad. He had earned all-state honors as a senior at Newport High School. Another quarterback in that game was Ronny South, who would go on to play at the University of Arkansas.

“We faced a fourth-and-short and decided to go for a field goal,” Keedy says. “I was the holder. The kick was blocked. As I was going for the ball, I was hit from both the front and the back. My knee just exploded. You could hear it pop.”

Keedy had been offered a football scholarship to Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. He practiced with the squad as a freshman, leading the scout team in practice. But his knee never healed.

“I was hurt the entire time and decided to have surgery at semester,” he says. “The surgical procedures weren’t nearly as advanced back in those days as they are now. I knew it was time to give up football. It was then that I started thinking about being a coach.”

The ASU football team’s loss eventually was coaching’s gain.

Keedy went on to become one of the most successful high school coaches in the state’s history, compiling a career record of 199-55-4. In recognition of his accomplishments, Keedy will be inducted in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame on Feb. 3. Tickets for the annual banquet are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.

Keedy is among the 11 individual inductees — six from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category — in the Class of 2012. The Hall of Fame also will induct the 1994 University of Arkansas national championship basketball team.

Keedy graduated from Arkansas State at the semester break and spent the spring of 1969 teaching school in the Bootheel of Missouri at Portageville. The teaching job was just to make some money until a coaching opportunity came along. That opportunity came from nearby Paragould when Keedy was hired as the junior high school football coach in 1969. After four seasons at the junior high level, Keedy spent the 1973 season as a Paragould High School assistant coach.

When the job of high school head football coach came open at Paragould, Keedy was not believed to be at the top of the list. Then, a remarkable thing happened. The boys who had played for him in junior high showed up at the school board meeting to urge that he be hired.

“If it hadn’t been for those young men, there’s no telling what I would have ended up doing,” Keedy now says.

Paragould hadn’t won a conference championship in football in a quarter of a century. Under Keedy’s leadership, the Bulldogs won back-to-back conference championships, going 10-0 in the regular season in 1974 and 1975. The 1975 Bulldogs shut out seven of their 10 regular-season opponents. They yielded only a field goal against Stuttgart in the playoffs, but the Ricebirds held on to win, 3-0.

“They wanted to win,” Keedy said of his players in an interview with the Paragould Daily Press. “They had been starved of a winning football program. All of a sudden they saw and felt what it was like to be successful. … They didn’t mind working hard. There never was a situation where you had to worry about them not being at school or practice.”

Following the 1975 season, Keedy was offered a significant raise to serve as head football coach at Sylvan Hills. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“Neither one of us wanted to leave,” Keedy told the Paragould newspaper when asked about the reaction he and his wife had to the job offer. “As we drove out of town, I’ll never forget my wife Jennifer cried. I thought, ‘Oh me, what have we gotten ourselves into?’ But we went on to have some great teams.”

Keedy began the rebuilding effort at Sylvan Hills and was 4-5-1 in 1976. It was one of only two losing seasons in his career. Following that season, he was offered the job of head football coach at Newport.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t want to be the coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks,” Keedy says. “I wanted to be the coach of the Newport Greyhounds.”

In his 19 years as head coach at Newport, Keedy compiled a 175-48-3 record. His teams won conference titles in 17 of those 19 seasons. Newport was 19-0 against longtime rival Batesville during his tenure.

In 1981, Newport won the school’s first state championship, defeating the defending state champions from Alma, 26-14.

Keedy had teams make it back to the state title game in 1988 and 1989, losing both times to Pine Bluff Dollarway. In 1991, Newport defeated Lake Hamilton, 7-0, in the state championship game.

During Keedy’s years as the Greyhound coach, his teams had seven one-loss seasons and won 10 or more games 10 times.

Why did he give it up?

“I had a heart attack,” Keedy says. “My cardiologist told me I could continue coaching if I would limit the stress. I tried it one more year and figured out there was no such thing as coaching without stress.”

This fall marked Keedy’s 12th season to be the color analyst on radio for Arkansas State.

“I just sit up there in the booth and try to explain football to the listeners in a way I think they can understand,” he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “Broadcasting has given me the chance to be around football, a game that I love.”

In Newport, Bill Keedy is still known as Mr. Greyhound. In 1994, a new facility at Newport High School was named the Bill Keedy Jr. Athletic Training Facility. Five years later, Keedy was inducted into the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

He also became known as Mr. All-Star, serving on the Arkansas High School All-Star Game coaching staff nine times. He was the head coach for the East in 1984 and 1992.

“I have had a few things happen to me in my life that I consider to be like a dream come true,” Keedy told the Newport Independent. “One was to come to my hometown and be the head football coach of the Newport Greyhounds. Getting to coach my son was also a privilege. I also consider being inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame to be another highlight of my life. … I had the support of one of the best school boards in the state of Arkansas.

“I think my greatest accomplishment as a coach was earning the respect of most of my players.”

Keedy turned down numerous offers from other high schools and even some colleges during his long tenure at Newport.

“I never wanted to be anywhere else,” he says.

Having left the stress of high school coaching behind, he now pours his passion for the game into helping his college alma mater.

“His record as a high school coach was phenomenal, and he is a tremendous ambassador for Arkansas State,” says ASU athletic director Dean Lee. “He is recognized for the outstanding work he does as part of our football radio broadcast team. He takes a great amount of pride in his alma mater, and that is evident by the time sacrifices he has made.”

At age 66, Bill Keedy loves the game as much as he ever did.

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