'I just try to take it day by day': Avon's Brad Poppe coaching both varsity basketball teamsAVON — It’s mid-December, and Brad Poppe was working with his team during another routine practice.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
AVON — It’s mid-December, and Brad Poppe was working with his team during another routine practice.
This particular day was a Tuesday. He woke up around 6:15 a.m., worked his full-time teaching job at Avon High School and headed to girls’ basketball practice when the day’s final bell rang.
After building a sweat and helping his team improve, he showered and met up briefly with his wife, Shelly, who had a to-go dinner made up of a sandwich and chips waiting for him. Girls’ practice was just the start of Poppe’s afternoon and evening loaded with basketball.
Once girls’ practice was done at 5:30 p.m., he jumped on a bus with the boys’ team for a matchup against Parkston.
No, Poppe’s duties don’t stop at coaching just one team. He is the leader of both the boys’ and girls’ varsity basketball teams in Avon, a rarity among coaches in the state.
“I try to take one day at a time,” said Poppe, a 48-year-old Avon native whose boys’ team lost by 10 points to the Trojans that day. “I know there are going to be some hectic days. I just try to take it day by day.”
There are a combined 362 varsity high school girls’ and boys’ basketball teams in South Dakota this year. Of those, three schools have coaches who are at the helm of both basketball teams. Avon’s Poppe, Grant-Deuel’s Jared Engebretson and Tiospaye-Topa’s Mark LeBeau are all in their first year of experiencing the heavy workload.
While LeBeau is filling in as the girls’ coach for a portion of the season but will go back to only a boys’ coach later, Poppe and Engebretson are both committed to both teams for the entire year.
“He’s doing a great job,” Avon Superintendent and Activities Director Tom Culver said. “ … And it’s got to be hectic. All of a sudden, it’s going to be February and it’s going to be districts time. Time is going to fly by for him.”
This is Poppe’s 23rd year coaching basketball in Avon and 26th year overall. He’s had stints with both the boys and girls separately, but this is the first year he’s combined the positions.
Last season, he coached the boys, as his son, Nick, was a senior on the team. He originally planned to go back to coaching the girls’ team this year, but when the school district was having troubles finding a boys’ coach in the summer, he approached Culver to see if he could start lining up plans for team camps and practices for both teams.
He also brought the idea to his wife and asked if she thought he could take over both jobs.
“I just chuckled,” she said. “We didn’t talk a long time about it. Brad hated to see the boys sit all summer. … Eventually, we talked about it more and he really expressed a desire to do it.”
Poppe and Culver later got the final OK from the school board, and now Poppe spends many days coaching basketball longer than he teaches in the classroom. At school, he has computer, Web-page design, accounting and personal finance classes. He also is the network administrator, fixing any technology in the district.
After school gets out, it’s basketball, basketball, basketball.
This season, there have already been two dates where Poppe has coached a doubleheader in which a boys’ game follows a girls’ game on the same night. In all, he’ll have coached eight doubleheaders by the end of the season. As of today, the Avon boys are 1-4, while the girls are 3-2.
Culver, who helped design schedules before the season to allow Poppe to coach every game, noted Saturday as an interesting day. This weekend, Poppe heads to Alexandria in the afternoon to coach a girls’ game against Hanson and then goes to Avon for a boys’ game against Irene-Wakonda.
“When we decided to give it a try, I told him I would be checking on him on a regular basis, not on coaching strategy or anything like that, but just making sure he’s OK.”
Ten years ago, Poppe had open-heart surgery to repair an artery that was 90 percent blocked. Doctors determined the problem was genetic when he went to the hospital from experiencing tightness in his chest that went along with cold sweats.
To stay in shape and keep his health, Poppe and Shelly — who have two children and have been married 24 years — go on long walks several times a week, despite the rigorous basketball schedule. Besides making dinners for him, Shelly also has scouted teams for her husband and says she’s in full support of his decision to coach two teams.
“My role is to do anything he needs,” said Shelly, a former junior high school basketball coach. “I think it’s love.”
Said Brad: “I couldn’t do this without her help. She’s bringing things to the gym for me. She’s done some scouting for us. She gives me more information than I can even digest sometimes.”
He also credits his assistants, Paul Thury on the boys’ squad and Amy Yost on the girls’ team, to make things easier.
“The kids have had to adjust to some things being done a little differently, too” Poppe said. “ … They’ve been extremely flexible.”
After Poppe and his boys’ basketball team lost to Parkston and returned home on that mid-December day, an exhausted coach finally returned to his house at 10:30 p.m. He gathered some things for the next day’s work, talked with Shelly and finally got to bed at 11:50 p.m.
The next day, he had to do it all over again.
“Usually when I come home at night, it doesn’t take long for me to fall asleep,” said Poppe, who won’t yet commit to coaching both teams again next year. “It makes for some long days, but I’ve really enjoyed it.”