Beavercreek coach has ‘something to be thankful for’


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All of these memories take on more meaning when you know Popp’s true story.

Like a cat, he seems to have nine lives.

But this Sunday it was his last.

Nine months earlier, her cardiologist had told her that due to the shape of her still failing heart, she probably had 8 to 14 months to live unless she had a transplant.

For the past 14 years – following open heart surgery in 2007 when doctors discovered structural damage – he has lived with a pacemaker and a defibrillator.

But after a dozen heart incidents – several of which sent him crashing to the ground and once requiring a rescue team to rush to him in hospital – it was obvious his old heart was failing.

Popp’s doctors at Ohio State Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital had started a transplant exam in April 2020 and he was put on the transplant list four months later.

He figured he would have a long wait and that’s why he was surprised that Sunday when he answered the phone and heard the Columbus nurse say, “We have a heart for you.” ! “

He and Jonda drove to Columbus and he said he got into the hospital around 6pm: “I remember walking down the hall and I don’t remember much after that.”

At 2 a.m. he was in surgery and he said about eight hours later his new heart was beating.

So, this Thanksgiving Day – although it’s a heart affair – it’s not so much about that old heart that’s caused him so much trouble or the new one he’s still struggling to adjust to.

This is the continued heart that Steve Popp has shown throughout his life – especially in recent years. when he suffered from heart failure, but continued to train and win, keeping his health issues to himself most of the time.

Partly because he’s a private person, but mostly because he wanted to give the girls in Beavercreek the healthiest high school experience possible.

“There is so much going on in the world these days and there is so much pressure on young people that it can be difficult for them,” said Popp. “But for two hours of practice or during a game, they can forget part of that.

“High school is a special time for players and one of the great things high school sport does is create a lifetime of memories.”

And Popp and the Beavercreek Girls made memories like few other programs in Ohio.

In his career, Popp – who has been a head coach first at Bellbrook and then Wayne – is 449-126-64 overall. He has scored 345 of those victories at Beavercreek since taking over the program in 1999.

After Beavercreek won the state crown, Popp was named National Coach of the Year by the United Soccer Association.

Legend

In 2018, after leading the Beavercreek High women’s team to a perfect 24-0 record and the Division I State Championship, Beavers coach Steve Popp was named National Coach of the Year. by the United Soccer Coaches Association. He’s one of the state’s most successful coaches with 449 wins at three high schools – Beavercreek, Wayne and Bellbrook. CONTRIBUTED

But when you tried to focus on that the other day, he quickly turned to the achievements of the players, who he said embrace “The Beavercreek Way”. And what does that mean?

“They are playing hard,” he said. “They’re playing the right way. They play for their teammates and never give up.

It has never been more obvious than last season.

Few thought that Popp, 65, would coach this year. He said in March he didn’t think he would either. The recovery had been far more intimidating than he had imagined, but he followed all of his doctors’ orders and started to feel better in June.

Then, in July, he was hospitalized with a cytomegalovirus (CMV) virus that was in his new heart.

“It spread through my body and, if it had not been contained, it would have shut down the other organs,” he said.

Although he returned from the hospital in early August, he slept at least 12 hours a day and said he missed trials for the first time in 40 years of training.

Although Popp – often battling fatigue and always wearing a mask – returned to the squad ahead of the preseason, the Beavers still lost all of their scrums, started the season 3-2 and were shut out twice. .

“It was a difficult start and the players were upset,” said Popp. “It’s not the Beavercreek way.”

He and his coaches moved the players around, made some attacking adjustments, and the makeover worked magic.

The Beavers won 14 of their next 15 games, won the district tournament and made it to the regionals before losing to eventual state champions Mount Notre Dame. They finished the season 17-4 and were ranked among the top 15 teams in the state.

Popp was named co-GWOC Coach of the Year.

Steve Popp coaches his 2018 Beavercreek women's football team, which won the state tournament with a perfect 24-0 record.  This season he has done something even more remarkable.  He had a heart transplant in January and can still back down and led the Beavers to a 17-4 record and the regional semifinals.  He was named co-GWOC Coach of the Year.  CONTRIBUTED
Legend

Steve Popp coaches his 2018 Beavercreek women’s football team, which won the state tournament with a perfect 24-0 record. This season he has done something even more remarkable. He had a heart transplant in January and can still back down and led the Beavers to a 17-4 record and the regional semifinals. He was named co-GWOC Coach of the Year. CONTRIBUTED

Women’s football coach “by accident”

Popp became a girls coach “by accident,” he said.

After graduating from Carroll High School and the University of Dayton, he worked as a radio personality in Springfield and Cincinnati. He was the boys’ assistant coach at Carroll from 1979 to 1985 and at a school in Cincinnati for a year.

At the time, the most famous football stars in the Popp family were Steve’s younger brothers, Don and Jeff.

Don was a statewide player at Carroll and a prolific goalscorer for Bowling Green.

Jeff was part of the Carroll team that won a state title, then played at UD and Wright State before becoming a defenseman with the Dayton Dynamo.

One day Steve stopped by their parents’ house, which is right next to where he now lives in the house that once belonged to his grandparents.

“No one was home and the phone rang, so I answered,” he said. “He was one of Jeff’s teammates at Dynamo and he said he had just been traded and was heading to California but had a problem.

“He made a commitment to coach the Bellbrook women’s team and now they didn’t have a coach. He said if we knew someone as a coach in high school, we should give them the job.

Popp called the school and, although he worked at the front desk of a Vandalia tool store, he said he offered to help if he could get his boss’s blessing – which he did. did.

In five years, his Bellbrook teams have won 63 games. In 1994 he moved to Wayne and in five years went 41-36-17.

This brought him back to Beavercreek, where he had grown up.

At first, however, he wasn’t sure he could come home. Its first team won just six of its 18 games and the following year the Beavers won five of 17 games.

By the third year he had his system in place and his team went 16-4-1 and won the district title.

Although his schedule got stronger and stronger, his heart problems – he was born with a heart murmur – intensified.

Open heart surgery in 2007 forced him to give up his leadership role with the Better Business Bureau, but he remained involved with the organization and still presents programs at Wright Patterson AFB. He also reads the newspaper once a week as part of a Salvation Army program that helps people who are blind or disabled.

Some of that was reduced by the 1-2 punch from the COVID-19 pandemic and his transplant recovery.

After nearly two weeks in the hospital and another week – with his brother Don helping him – in a basement apartment connected to the hospital, he made a low-key return to Beavercreek.

“I didn’t want balloons or a parade,” he said. “I was happy to have received the transplant, but sad that another family had to lose someone for me to get this gift.

“People tell me to remember that the family wanted to donate it. In their eyes, they were doing something positive and maybe it comforted them… It helps me.

There were other struggles though. At first, his legs and feet swelled so much that he could no longer wear shoes. He was taking 39 pills a day – it’s now down to 20 – and his weight has dropped to 136 pounds.

That said, he never wavered in his desire to continue coaching:

“It has always been a part of my life. I can’t imagine not doing it while I can still contribute and help the players.

“Every time I go out on the pitch – to practice or for a game – I’m excited.

“And now the team gives me purpose and strength. It motivates me and allows me to move forward every day.

Steve Popp (top row left) with the 2018 state champion Beavercreek women's football team, who finished 24-0.  CONTRIBUTED
Legend

Steve Popp (top row left) with the 2018 state champion Beavercreek women’s football team, who finished 24-0. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: Don Popp

Credit: Don Popp

“Difficult” season

Having said that, Popp said last season was “one of the most difficult I have ever faced.”

To manage the team’s two hours of daily training – which typically ran from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. – he said he would get about three hours of sleep just before going on the pitch, and then after practice he could sleep. 10 hours straight.

During training, he walked 6,000 steps in those two hours, then added 4,000 during the day, both on his treadmill and while walking around the neighborhood with Jonda.

Today they are both having dinner in Kettering with Jonda’s two daughters and her “GB” as she calls them “grandchildren”.

“I have much to be thankful for,” Popp said. “The donor and his family are first and foremost. And there are my family and friends who support me.

“I am grateful to the doctors and nurses who saved my life. And I’m grateful to my assistant coaches who stepped in and handled everything.

“And, of course, there is the football team – all the players and their families – who have supported me all season.”

He fell silent and, as the emotion mounted, he added:

“I’m grateful for my new heart and how it will give me another chance to do the things I love to do.

“I am grateful to have a future.

“The way things were going, who thought I was going to be here now?” “

This is what makes it a Thanksgiving story.

And all because of The Beavercreek Way.

He did not resign.

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