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As happy as he is to be chosen to succeed Bronson basketball head coach Kelly Beckham, Cedar Key boys' basketball head coach Aaron Haldeman hates to leave Cedar Key.
"I told Mrs. Ice, 'I've got tears of sorrow in one eye and tears of joy in the other,'" he said.
Haldeman, who graduated from Cedar Key in 1993, started as assistant coach in 2002 under then head coach Biz Paeth before ascending to the head coach position. His teams are well-regarded in the area for playing over their heads, despite being small in number.
"He did a good job in Cedar Key, and I think he'll do a great job here in Bronson," Beckham said.
Cedar Key Principal Sue Ice says Haldeman leaves big shoes to fill for the next candidate. In addition to being the varsity boys' basketball coach, he also coached varsity and middle school girls' softball and varsity volleyball. Most important, from the school's point of view, was his role of K-12 phys ed instructor.
"It takes a really special person to be able to work with elementary, middle and high school kids," Ice said. "Even at our school that's a stretch - most of our teachers are exclusively with one age group or another."
That mental flexibility should serve Haldeman well as he transitions from a very small single-A team to a 2A team with a full bench. Expectations, of course, will be accordingly higher. On the one hand, he'll have a team that could pound his whole 1A schedule to powder. On the other hand, now he has to beat Oak Hall.
"We're already used to a lot of that Bronson district, because that's the district Cedar Key used to play in," Haldeman said. "We beat Branford two times out of three last year and split with Bell. But in a lot of ways, Bronson's a whole different world, basketball-wise."
It doesn't hurt that Haldeman played his junior year under Beckham at Bronson.
"That year changed everything for me," Haldeman recalls. "My sophomore year at Cedar Key, I played a lot and was a pretty good shooter. When I got up to Bronson, Coach Beckham really overhauled my fundamentals. I struggled with my shot all year there."
Haldeman says Beckham encouraged him to keep practicing what he'd learned, assuring him it would all come together.
"My senior year, back in Cedar Key, it all clicked," he says. After the experience of playing for Beckham, striving to perfect every aspect of his game and expecting to win every night, he found every loss both devastating and galvanizing.
"I had to find a way to stay in basketball - whether playing or coaching."
As much as Cedar Key will miss Haldeman, all agree he's taking a great step.
"It's going to be very difficult to replace Aaron; he's done a great job here," says Ice. "We wish him the best at Bronson - this is a great opportunity for him."
Chris Cowart, girls' head coach and a former assistant at the Citadel, also wishes his old benchmate well.
"I really thought he was the best candidate for the job," Cowart says.
There is no word yet on who will replace Haldeman on the sidelines and in the gym. Cowart was also Haldeman's assistant on the boys' team, and strictly from a coaching perspective, would be an ideal candidate. Because he is not a teacher at Cedar Key, however, he would not be the first choice for the role. Ice said the school's priority is in finding a K-12 phys ed teacher who can coach basketball and softball, with middle school volleyball coach April Phillips stepping up to the varsity squad this year.
"We're very sad to see him go," Ice said. "He did such an outstanding job everywhere."