Coach Popp Gets Props From Player
I received an obviously heart-felt comment in response to my blog regarding Coach Popp from a Richmond Heights basketball player, which I responded to yesterday. Since then, I haven’t been able to shake the emotion that this young man conveyed, and I felt compelled to share my thoughts more publicly with all of you because I think it is a unique teachable moment for us all.
Here is this young man’s very eloquent comment concerning his coach: “Coach Popp is a good guy. People at RHHS use those words all the time – I think he got too comfortable hearing the words and thought he could say them too. He didn’t offend the teammate… it was the soft parents who took offense. Honestly, he looks out for us. He’s been there for us at times when no one else is. He’s a great leader, tells us we can do great things in our future, encourages us, and got us a great basketball season.”
As a teacher, my first thought when I read this comment was how gratified I would be to have a student of mine say that I was someone who looks out for her students, who’s there for them when they feel no one else is, and who encourages them and tells them they can do great things in the future. This is the highest praise a teacher, coach, or principal can hope for, and it speaks volumes of Coach Popp indicating that he is, in spite of what we are hearing about him through the media and through some players and parents, in so many ways, a great coach.
And I am gratified, too, that a player from that team was courageous enough to speak up for his coach at a time when he is receiving nothing but criticism. Public servants are so easily the target when someone becomes disgruntled, and, as happened here, their careers are often on the line. This is particularly true in education, where it seems the public is only too ready to blame principals and teachers for what ails their children. So, it is important that we, who read these news accounts, recognize that we don’t have all the facts and need to be more prudent in our judgment of others. So I appreciate being reminded by this young man that there are always two sides to every issue.
Finally, however, I must address his own admission that Coach Popp “got too comfortable hearing the words and thought he could say them too.” Here’s the thing: When we become teachers, we do so knowing that teaching is not confined to the subject matter we teach. In fact, we spend much of our time teaching important life skills and life lessons that have little to do with reading or math. We teach children how to get along with others, how to compromise, how to be good team players, how to treat others with respect, how to accept failure and learn from it, how to apologize when we are wrong and accept responsibility for our actions, and the list goes on and on. Crucial to the teaching of these life skills, as teachers, is the necessity to lead by example. If I teach the importance of respecting others but my students witness me being disrespectful to a student or fellow teacher, I send the message that respecting others really isn’t that important after all. In other words, I must walk the talk, or I have lost the credibility I need to effectively lead my students.
I believe that Coach Popp must be, according to this young man, a compassionate coach. He has led his team to countless victories and taught them many important lessons in the process, but he has also failed his team by not leading by example. As soon as he sunk to the level of those around him, he failed his team. As soon as he used disparaging words that ridiculed his players, he became no better than his own students who would be called on the carpet for the comments he made, and he failed his team. And parents, soft or not, have a right to expect that their children will be treated with the same respect that teachers would demand of their own students.
I was thrilled to hear that the Spartans defeated Independence last night, 70-51, in spite of the turmoil this incident has created. And I am extremely hopeful that Coach Popp will return to his coaching position next year with all of the amazing qualities attributed to him in the above comment, as well as a tempered tongue and a respectful disposition which leads by example.