Basketball court dedicated to John Butterfield

The Butterfield family helps ‘break it down’ in commemoration of coach John Butterfield. (Photos by Frank Turner)

Before the girl’s varsity basketball game, Hettinger Public School renamed their basketball court to ‘John Butterfield Court’ to honor coach Butterfield and his impact on the region.

Frank Turner

John Butterfield was a full-time teacher and coach for Hettinger Public School who was greatly renowned. Butterfield passed in May, 2018, however, his legacy is still very much alive. According to Jon Kohler, the Hettinger Public School athletic director, Butterfield’s accomplishments as a coach and a player are unparalleled in the Hettinger-Lodgepole area.

“John’s whole life was centered around the Hettinger-Lodgepole area,” said Kohler, “He was born here, he went to school here, and he coached and taught here. He was an integral part of the area.”

John’s coaching career started in 1965, two years after marrying his wife, Byrdee. 

“Byrdee is just as much a part of the commemoration as John is,” said Kohler, “I don’t think she ever missed a game he coached.”

Some of Butterfield’s accomplishments include being a member of the Dickinson State University Athletic Hall of Fame, taking many teams to state tournaments in both North and South Dakota, and ultimately leading the Hettinger Black Devils team to win the 1983 Class B boys basketball state championship.

Although Butterfield’s accomplishments were extensive, his impact in the community went much further that just athletics.

“He was involved in generation after generation at Hettinger Public School. Kids who never had him as a coach knew him as a substitute teacher. The thing main about John Butterfield was that he would take time to talk to about anybody,” said principal Darin Seamands.

Butterfield was not only a coach, but also a science teacher, local rancher, and substitute teacher. According to Kohler, Butterfield was active in just about everything.

“It goes beyond his coaching in this town for how much he means to us. He was a mentor,” said Kohler, “One thing I remember about him was his cool approach, he was never a coach that got rattled and that was a reflection of his demeanor.”

In his retirement, Butterfield came back to the school and provided a mentorship and leadership role for struggling youth. Ultimately, it was Butterfield’s love for working with young people that drew him back to teaching.

“The man never forgot a name. No matter how busy he was, he always made time to acknowledge how people were doing,” said Seamands, “He was just a truly caring person.”

Athletic Director Kohler was the one who originally approached the school board and presented the idea of renaming the basketball floor to John Butterfield Court.

“We knew how much [Butterfield] meant to the community. It just seemed fitting to me to commemorate him on his floor,” said Kohler, “I thought that was a lot more appropriate than just a little plaque on a wall or plaque on a scorer’s table. Something substantial.”

Seamands added, “That’s a big thing, when you’re putting someone’s name on a building or floor, you would assume that there would be some questions. It was a big decision, but it was a quick decision with a unanimous vote.”

At the ceremony, Byrdee made sure to have it mentioned that the basketball court was John’s home away from home.

“The name on the floor isn’t just a reflection of the basketball John, it’s a reflection of the human being and how much he meant to us,” said Kohler, “The educator, the friend, the mentor, the parent, his handprints are all over this place.”