THEN....And Now Jim Coppoc
Jim Coppoc is a common fixture at just about every sporting event in Concordia, from grade school athletics to college games. He and his wife Joyce will also travel long distances to watch local athletes and family compete at out-of-town events.
"I haven't missed a state track meet in 60 years," Coppoc said proudly.
Supporting the athletic endeavors of the youth of his beloved town has always been an integral part of Jim Coppoc's life.
Raised in Belpre, Kansas, a town about 70 miles west of Hutchinson - current population 83 - Coppoc had a very rural upbringing. "I farmed with my dad and uncle. I loved to run in the country."
A standout athlete at Belpre High School, Coppoc also played the coronet in band, sang in the glee club, and performed in school plays. He was named to the All-League teams in football and basketball, and the Southwest All-Area football team as a running back.
"That one surprised me," he said with a laugh, "because I was a SLOW running back."
Coppoc attended Ottawa University, where he competed in football, basketball, and track. It's also where he met his wife Joyce.
"Before I left for college, my mother told me not to date any juniors or seniors," Joyce Coppoc said. "I was at the library one day, and this guy named Jim asked me to go to the movies. I went back to the dorms and told my sister, and she said: 'You're not going to go out with him, are you?'"
This December 29, the Coppocs will have been married 56 years.
"It was a two o'clock wedding, but her parents told me to be there at three," Jim Coppoc said with a grin. "They were hoping I'd be late."
A self-deprecating sense of humor is almost always part of a conversation with Jim Coppoc. His former students and athletes still refer to him as "coach", and still remember 'the look' - Coppoc's way of letting a misbehaving youngster know that things needed to quickly change.
After he graduated from college, Coppoc taught science and physical education at Princeton, Kansas, a small town about 10 miles south of Ottawa. He also coached junior high track, football, and basketball by himself, with no assistants.
He earned his master's degree in Physical Education from Emporia State in 1967, and in May of 1968, he and Joyce moved to Concordia, her hometown. Coppoc taught 7th grade science and coached junior high track, freshman basketball, freshman football, and coached the varsity jumpers on the high school track team. He counts numerous state qualifiers from his track & field squads, and one state champion in the pole vault.
"I like all sports," Coppoc admits. "But if I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be track-and-field."
Coppoc spent six years in the Concordia school system teaching and coaching. In 1974 he stepped away from it all to farm full-time.
In 1980, Coppoc Sports & Awards was founded. "The idea for the sporting goods store came from Joyce's mother," Coppoc said. "I think it was her way of trying to get rid of me."
The Coppocs ran the business from their house for the first few years. In 1984 they opened their store on 6th Street. Before Walmart, before the internet and online shopping, Coppoc Sports was the omnipresent sporting goods business in Concordia and, literally, a billboard for the town's sporting life.
"Joyce kept a personal-best records board in the store," Coppoc said. "Kids would always pop in to update their record for an event."
The store, and its customers, anchored the Coppocs' life in Concordia. "It really helped us stay active with all the sports in town. So many of the kids would come to the store and we really enjoyed visiting with them. And of course Larry (Hamel) was there for 14 years and became such an important part of our business."
In 2007 the Coppocs sold the store to Larry and Tammy Hamel, but kept the awards portion of the business, which they renamed Altius Awards. From its current location at the corner of 6th Street and Washington, Jim, Joyce, and their son Scott offer practically any kind of award, trophy, plaque, or medal needed for an event.
Jim Coppoc still goes to work every day. "Joyce and Scott run the business. They keep me around to do the engraving and put the plaques together."
For over a half-century, Jim Coppoc has kept a watchful eye on the sporting life in Concordia. Now 77 years old, he is grateful for the wonderful life his family has experienced. "I love this town and the people of the town. We have wonderful friends and customers, and they're what keep us going."
When Coppoc looks back on 51 years of sports in Concordia, he smiles a lot but frowns sometimes - such is the cycle of change in a small rural town.
"The number of kids who go out for sports - for all activities - has declined. The town is smaller, but we used to have separate teams for freshman, junior varsity, and varsity in just about every sport. The schools just don't have the number of kids that participate anymore."
But Coppoc's biggest regret is a personal one. "When I look back on it all now, I wish I had stayed in coaching more. I really enjoyed working with the kids. I missed it then, and I still miss it now. So I go watch them compete every chance I get."
That is the essence of Jim Coppoc. He is now, and has always been, a super-fan of Concordia sports. "We're going to keep going to every event we can as long as the Good Lord allows us. I love to support the kids. I just like being there and watching them compete, watching them improve every year. I've seen a lot of good kids stand at the top of a podium, and it doesn't get any better than that."
If there was ever an awards podium built for fans, Jim Coppoc would be standing at the top of it.