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ROOSEVELT “BUSTER” KEYES JR. -
Clarkstown High School Class of 1972

Whether he was dashing to paydirt on the gridiron, sprinting or jumping his way to victory in track & field, or fast-breaking on the basketball court, Roosevelt “Buster” Keyes Jr. was a man for all seasons for Clarkstown High School. Buster won nine varsity letters – four in track, three in football, and two in basketball – and at times left spectators in awe with his breakneck speed, hair-trigger quickness and off-the-charts jumping ability.

Buster’s top individual performance was his third-place finish in the long jump at the 1971 New York State Track & Field championships with a leap of 23 feet 3 1⁄2 inches, at that time the No. 2 mark in Rockland County history and currently ranking No. 5 all-time. That same year he set a school record in the 100-yard dash, clocking 9.9 seconds in a rain-swept dual meet versus Nanuet. The Rams and Golden Knights battled back and forth for track supremacy during Buster’s four years on the track team, with Clarkstown rattling off 24 straight PSAL dual-meet victories over three years before Nanuet snapped the skein in 1972, winning the meet in the final event, the mile relay, and thereby taking the PSAL dual-meet crown. Clarkstown had won the title the previous two years.

Four times Buster was chosen to the All-County team in spring track, starting as a ninth grader when he scissored the school long jump record at 21-10 1⁄2, and improving as a sophomore to 22-5 1⁄2, a Section 9 record. That same year he broke the long jump record and ran on the record-setting 440-yard relay at the Nyack Jaycees meet, which was considered one of the premier all-comers meets in the metropolitan area.

His junior year of 1971 turned out to be his best, when he won the State long jump bronze, broke the 10-second barrier for the 100, and combined with teammate John Duddy for a long- jump relay record at the Nanuet Relays that stood for 12 years. He closed out his track career in 1972 with first-team All-RCP- SAL honors in the long jump and second-team recognition in the 100.

“Buster’s athletic talent was exceptional,” says Joe D’Innocenzo, who coached track at Clarkstown/Clarkstown North from 1959 to 1978, the last 11 years as head coach. “He added to our team, helped make us a dominant team.”

In football Buster was a two-time, first-team All-PSAL running back who was also chosen to the New York Daily News Metropolitan All-Star team in 1971. After an especially memorable performance against Nanuet in which Buster racked up 164 rushing yards, including a scintillating 60-yard touch- down burst, Journal-News sports writer Steve Drummond
wrote that Buster “has now firmly established himself as the most exciting back in the history of Clarkstown football.” Buster’s top-end speed and cutback ability enabled him to break off many long-gainers and cement his status as the Rams’ chief offensive threat. He thrived despite a heavy workload of 20 to 30 carries a game and the pressure of knowing opposing defenses were targeting him.

“Speed was a valuable tool for me,” says Buster, who was slight of stature but still powerful at 5-foot-6 and 143 pounds. “Being quick was also a good tool to have.” Lou Toscano was Buster’s head coach his junior and senior years, and brother Paul Toscano, fresh out of the University of Wyoming, was the assistant coach who worked with the offensive backs. “Buster possessed a tremendous amount of natural talent,” says Paul Toscano, a legendary Clarkstown athlete in his own right and a college football All-America at Wyoming. “He had great speed and quickness, and surprising power for a small back. Every time he touched the ball you had a feeling he could score a touchdown. Once he got past that first line of defense, you knew he could go all the way.”

On the basketball court Buster was a solid contributor to Coach Ed McGrath’s 1971-72 RCPSAL and Section 9 championship team that was ranked 10th in New York State. He often was assigned to guard the opposing team’s toughest backcourt player, and he and fellow guard Neil Davren ignited a high-performing offense that revolved around All-County center Bob Mathias. Buster also played varsity on the RCPSAL champion 1970-71 squad. Including his time on sub-varsity teams in ninth and 10th grades in Clarkstown, Buster’s basket- ball teams went undefeated throughout his high school career, winning all 72 games.

Paul Toscano, Buster’s freshman basketball coach in the 1968-69 season, recalls Buster making his job a lot easier during that unbeaten, 18-0 inaugural season in his coaching career. “I remember thinking, ‘Coaching is not hard when you have a player like that and can give the ball to him.’ Whenever you needed a steal or a basket, he came up with it.”

For his three-sport prowess, Buster was inducted into the Clarkstown North Hall of Fame in 1999. The hall encompasses honorees from Congers, Clarkstown and Clarkstown North high schools.

After graduating from Clarkstown in 1972, Buster enrolled at Manhattan College but left after one semester to join the U.S. Army. He went on to serve honorably for 38-plus years as a combat medic, paramedic and licensed vocational nurse, serving multiple tours overseas. He managed to maintain his athletic pursuits while in the military, earning an All-Army (Europe) citation in flag football and softball, playing lead guard for the Fort Meade (Md.) basketball team, garnering first- team honors in eight-man football at Fort Meade, and meriting selection to the All-Post baseball team as an infielder at Fort Benning, Ga.

Another measure of fame came Buster’s way in 1994, when he was written into the script of an episode for the TV sitcom Coach as a backfield prospect for a fictional Division I-A college football team, the Minnesota State University Screaming Eagles. The script writer, Alan Kirschenbaum, was a Clarkstown graduate who was familiar with Buster’s athletic exploits and found him suitable in name and talent for inclusion in the episode, titled “Blue Chip Blues.”
Buster, who is 62, was born at Nyack Hospital and first lived at Camp Shanks Village in Orangeburg, later residing in the Clarkstown school district section of Nanuet. He moved to California in 1990 and has remained there ever since, currently serving as a civilian nursing assistant and certified massage therapist for the Veterans Administration facility in Menlo Park, Calif. A resident of nearby Belmont, Buster does most of his chair and table massage as a ministry to his community.

The Keyes connection to Rockland County remains strong. One of Buster’s three sisters, Gloria, works as a registered nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, and another, Adele, is an educator in Rockland. His other sister, Deborah, was a pro- bation officer in New City who died of lung cancer in 2011.

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