Harding’s new Hall-of-Famer has a strong pulse

Gerald Keenan got a nod from the Minnesota State High School League when he was inducted into their Hall of Fame on Oct. 25. The Harding High School athletics director has been at the school since 1975, and with the district since 1960. (Patrick Larkin/Review)
Gerald Keenan got a nod from the Minnesota State High School League when he was inducted into their Hall of Fame on Oct. 25. The Harding High School athletics director has been at the school since 1975, and with the district since 1960. (Patrick Larkin/Review)
Jerry Keenan was greeted with fanfare and a cake during Harding High School’s Thursday, Oct. 29 morning announcements. (photo courtesy of Harding High School)
Jerry Keenan was greeted with fanfare and a cake during Harding High School’s Thursday, Oct. 29 morning announcements. (photo courtesy of Harding High School)

Jerry Keenan’s lifelong dedication to athletics gets a nod

Fifty-five years into his career, Harding High School’s activities and athletics director Gerald Keenan has no plans of stopping, even after achieving state Hall of Fame stature.

Jerry Keenan, as he prefers, was inducted into the Minnesota State High School League Hall of Fame on Oct. 25, receiving the designation alongside three Olympic athletes and nine other Minnesotans involved in high school sports for the league’s 100th anniversary.

The induction was celebrated boisterously on Harding High’s Thursday, Oct. 29 morning newscast — Keenan was reading announcements via the school’s television system alongside principal Doug Revsbeck, as he does everyday, when some loud, somewhat off-kilter brass instruments began tooting away, and Revsbeck placed a cake topped with candles in front of him.

“What is that for?” Keenan asked the principal. A portion of the school’s marching band then strolled into the TV booth and played him a song celebrating the achievement, as Keenan sat humbly listening.

“Harding High School — we are so lucky to have Mr. Keenan,” Revsbeck said.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Harding graduate under 55 who hasn’t heard of Keenan — he’s been working at the school since 1975, and with the district since 1960.

Keenan jokingly says he got the award because he’s getting old.

He may not be a spring chicken, but the man’s motivated and dedicated.

“I’m just warming up,” he quips. “One of these days I’ll figure it out.”

But some figure Keenan, who’s in his late 70s, already has it figured out as best as anyone can, perhaps pointing to why he was entered into the hall of fame.

Long-time service

Keenan’s been involved with the State High School League on and off through his service as a coach, and for the past 19 years, as Harding’s athletics director.

He’s seen his share of awards and recognitions, including the State Award of Merit from the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and induction into the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Tim Leighton, a former Pioneer Press sports writer and current communications director for the MSHSL, says Keenan was inducted for his years of service and his commitment to kids.

“Mr. Keenan has been an incredible ambassador for the city of St. Paul and an ambassador for kids,” he says. Leighton would routinely talk to Keenan for sports stories, as Keenan was a spokesperson for St. Paul Public Schools’ athletics department.

Leighton says Keenan’s been “a huge proponent of athletics in the city of St. Paul.”

Keenan is generally credited with saving middle school sports from being slashed from the district’s budget, when the school was facing major budget crunches about five years ago.

Mentor and friend

Willie Taylor, former Central High School varsity basketball coach and current Stillwater High School girls basketball coach, seconded Leighton’s sentiment.

“Jerry Keenan has been huge for St. Paul sports,” Taylor says. “He really fought to keep sports going when things were getting bad.”

Taylor got his start in coaching working alongside Keenan.

He recalls asking his own high school coach what to do when starting out — that coach pointed Taylor to Keenan. He told him to hang out with Keenan, and observe his methods. Keenan took him under his wing, teaching him and showing what mentorship is all about.

More than basketball Xs and Os, what he learned from Keenan is that caring for your players comes first.

“He really cared about the kids he coached,” Taylor remarks. “He cared about them deeper than basketball.” He’s been a mentor, and a friend to high school players and coaches alike.

Wallflower perks

Keenan’s coaching experience ran the gamut — he coached boys basketball at the Harding from 1975 to 1996, and was also the boys tennis coach for 14 years, and the girls tennis coach for two. He also coached baseball at Mechanic Arts. He says he misses being on the sidelines, but notes that he’s never really stopped — he’s still a mentor to other kids, as well as the school’s coaches.

Plus, he says he enjoys the perks of being a wallflower.

“When you’re coaching, everybody else is second-guessing you...Now I get to sit in the stands and second guess what they’re doing.”

That said, Keenan notes he’s careful not to step on any toes, and to only provide advice to coaches when it’s solicited. Besides, the coaches are doing well, he says.

His office is just what you’d expect — an old steelcase desk, lines of trophies and sports memorobilia, and an immense lazy susan on the left side of his desk containing dozens of binders with athletics documents. Aside from the iPad on the desk, the place is timeless.

On a recent morning some students stopped in to say hello, while others simply peeked in to see if the secretary was in to take their forms. With fall sports finishing and winter sports registration underway, it’s a busy time for the athletics department.

Asked about the prospect of retirement, Keenan shakes his head. He’s having fun at his job.

“When you start aging, you’ve got to check your pulse in the morning,” he jokes. “If it’s still beating, you’ve got a chance to get to work.”

He stays fit and nimble by playing handball, bicycling, and going to the YMCA. And when they set up the batting cages at the school in the spring, he still stops by and takes some swings. He could swing a bat all day for the sheer joy of it, he says.

Sports classroom

Though he’s had a few chances to leave over the years, with offers to work for a college or become an assistant principle, he’s decided Harding is his place. And 55 years later, he still finds joy in his work.

“My wife said I just wanted to have fun,” he says. Though he does work in the realm of fun — the gym, the swimming pool, the tennis and basketball court — he says they’re all classrooms too.

“There are great lessons to learn there,” he says. To that end, he laments the small budgets that athletic departments, like his, face.

Keenan still puts in long hours some days. On Monday, Nov. 9, he spent 14 hours at the school, staying until 9 p.m. to host a referee training session.

As Coach Taylor puts it, “You don’t see too many [athletic directors] at a track meet when it’s 45 degrees outside.”

He’s spent his time going to all types of sporting events. With all the time he puts into it, he cautions aspiring athletic directors that it’s not for a person with a young family.

As father of three grown kids, Keenan’s glad he waited until later in life, concluding, “I think it’s an old man’s job.”

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.

 

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