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BRONSON - Bronson boosters have said all along that the best candidate to succeed legendary head basketball coach Kelly Beckham would be homegrown talent. They were right.
Cedar Key boys basketball head coach Aaron Haldeman will follow Beckham as the new head coach of the Bronson Eagles.
Beckham announced in April that he had accepted the head coach position at Gainesville High School and would be leaving Bronson after serving more than 25 years.
Haldeman was considered to be one of the leading candidates for the position and was endorsed by Beckham in the latter's role in helping to find a new head coach. Haldeman, like Beckham, graduated from Cedar Key High School but played his junior year for Beckham at Bronson in 1991-1992 before returning to Cedar Key.
"That one year made such an impression on me," Haldeman said. "My sophomore year at Cedar Key, we didn't win a game. The next year at Bronson, we lost our first game to Maclay - a team we should have beaten by 15 points. Guys were crying in the locker room and I was bewildered. Beckham told the rest of the team, 'See, it's just another game to him. He doesn?t know it means everything to us.' "
That year, Haldeman said, his game and his attitude were transformed. "There were so many fundamentals being thrown at me all the time, I had to work my butt off just to keep up," he said.
"At the end of the season, we lost by one point to Hawthorne at the buzzer. I cried in the locker room - I never knew I could feel so bad about losing. That was when I knew I had to find some way to stay in basketball -whether playing or coaching."
He'll find common cause with the returning Eagles this year as they work to uphold Beckham's legacy at Bronson, including more than 500 wins and an average of over 20 wins per season.
"I'm really motivated, and the guys are just as motivated as I am," Haldeman said. "It means the world to me that coach Beckham would go to bat for me like that and I really owe him so much. We're ready to work hard to keep from being the team that lets down Bronson's huge basketball tradition.?"
"I think they made a good choice," Beckham said of Haldeman. " I've known Aaron for quite some time. He's a good person and I think he'll do a great job at Bronson."
Despite playing only one year for Beckham, Haldeman kept in close contact with his former coach, working on strategies for his own team at Cedar Key.
"Having played for me, he knew what I expected and that will give him a leg up coming in," Beckham continued. "He knows all the existing players and knows what's going on there now."
This year's Eagle team returns the core of the squad that went 18-11 last year and slugged its way into the regional quarterfinal against its nemesis, Arlington Country Day. In spite of graduating inspiring starter Terrance Dukes and reliable go-tos such as Dion Thomas and Wilberto Encarnacion, the team will be skilled and experienced. They'll be led by C.J. King, the meticulous and organized senior point guard, whom Haldeman calls "a dream point."
Other important returners include standout bigs Kelby Barber and James Rivers, and defensive dynamo Rodolfo Contreras. Enrique Wiseman and Raymie Powers are top JVs expected to bolster this year's squad.
Varsity assistant Phillip Knight, Beckham?s right hand for all but one year in Bronson, will join Beckham on the bench in Gainesville, but Haldeman said another Bronson alum, Brent Walker, is expected to join his Eagle coaching staff. Walker was a very successful player at Bronson in the 2001-2002 state runner-up team and went on to play at Santa Fe Community College and Piedmont College.
Haldeman, who started at Cedar Key as assistant to then-head coach Biz Paeth in 2002, is as pleased and proud to be moving up as he is sad to leave.
"I told Mrs. Ice (Cedar Key principal Sue Ice) I have tears of sorrow in one eye and tears of joy in the other," he said. "Cedar Key has been such a great place, everyone's been wonderful to me. But this opportunity was too good to pass up."
Fans of great basketball love the long storyline. Legendary Bronson coaches such as John Rutledge and John Dulaney passed the keys to Beckham in their time. Beckham has handed them to Haldeman. How long 'til November, when we see the next chapter begin?