Top program of early 2000s leads two runners to turn to coaching




Photo courtesy of Ken Roseberry, AD, Cedar Cliff HS



They met when he imported to Central Pennsylvania nearly 15 years ago from Michigan, a state that breeds more Red Wings than harriers. But to this day, Dan Wilde and John Butler remain friends, training partners and foes. 

In that time, their lives have been linked. Cross country, track and running has unified their bond. 

“When Dan got into cross country when he moved into the area, we hung out and found that we had a lot of common,” Lower Dauphin High head cross country and track & field distance coach John Butler said recently. “It’s grown from there.” 

Despite being a year younger, Wilde, 27, the head girls’ track & field coach for Cedar Cliff High, developed a kinship with Butler, 28, which the pair maintain even to this day. For nearly 15 years, the friends have used running as a common thread as they’ve grown from adolescence to adulthood.  

Today, they coach but miles apart and in different sections of the Mid-Penn, but when a problem or situation arises within their own program, they know who to call. 

“We like to bounce ideas off of each other,” said Butler, who was a graduate assistant for two years at Syracuse University after he graduated from LaSalle University. “It’s nice to have. You have someone to ask, ‘What would you do in this situation? How would you tackle this problem?’” 

While many coaches develop friendships over time, Wilde and Butler present the unique bond that has lasted for over a decade -- and which has ultimately brought them back to the same position in life. 

“He and I are from the same mold,” said Wilde, an independent video production contractor. “We don’t do anything without our best effort. And that’s why our friendship has remained strong through this time.” 

Graduates of a reputable Cedar Cliff program that grabbed multiple district and state medals under Ken Roseberry -- now the current Athletic Director at the school -- each went on experience success in college. 

Butler, a 02’ Colts graduate, went on to contribute to a strong LaSalle cross country program, while Wilde, an ‘03 Cedar Cliff alum, went on to help strengthen the Kutztown University men’s cross country program. 


The 2000 PIAA AAA State XC Runner-Up Cedar Cliff Colts - courtesy of Ken Roseberry

“He showed great growth in college as a runner and leader,” Roseberry said of Wilde. “In college he remained a student of the sport.”

Each found themselves back in Central Pennsylvania in 2009, though to differing roles. 

Wilde, as an independent contractor with a flexible schedule, was able to take over a program that helped mold him as a youth and which was a two-time state champion in cross country. He took over for Roseberry in 2009,  looking to continue a strong Colts’ tradition while building in his own way. 

“If you look at what he has done as head coach of the girl's track team, and the individuals on the boys distance team, he is doing more than anyone could have expected,“ Butler said. “And, most importantly, he’s doing it his way, not necessarily the way Ken Roseberry would have done it.”

Butler, meanwhile, grabbed the Lower Dauphin position and had a different goal in mind. 

“My goal was to change the culture,” said Butler, who teaches the distance team during the track season. “I just didn’t want it to be fun. I wanted the athletes to be held accountable for what they did. I wanted it to challenge them.” 

That’s a big reason why Falcons Athletic Director Dave Bittinger handed the reins to Butler, fresh off his graduate assistantship at Syracuse. 

“Sometimes when you meet a person, you get a ‘hunch,‘” Bitting said. “When I spoke with John, he just didn’t give me the answers I wanted to hear, he gave me what he believed.” 

Butler has helped build the Falcons’ reputation over the last few years. During the 2011 cross country season, the Lower Dauphin boys’ team was led by District 3 champ Jeff Groh and finished fifth overall as a team, qualifying for states. The girls’, meanwhile, finished sixth, but had a successful season. 

Sometimes the staff is as important as the head coach. For Butler, that was certainly the case. His wife, Maureen McCandless, an All-American runner at the University of Pittsburgh, and Mary Dell, an All-American runner at Shippensburg, round out his staff.  

McCandless and Dell often act as a second perspective for the Falcon athletes, a yin to Butler’s yang. Within the makeup of Butler -- and for that matter Wilde -- has always been a fiery passion. 

“We challenge our athletes every day to get better,” Butler said. “Sometimes they need Maureen and Mary to get that second opinion or reaction.” 

Wilde, like Butler, is infusing new techniques into his coaching style. His modern techniques include individualizing workouts for certain skill levels, and adapting to the way his team reacts to his workouts. 

Sometimes, even, Wilde -- and for that matter Butler -- can even tag along during workouts to give his team a fresh take on what effort levels need to be given. 

As coaches nearly three years on the job, Butler and Wilde have learned that what worked years ago might not work today. 

Finding the right solutions takes time, effort, and the right amount of communication. 

Their friendship has only gotten stronger.