January 15, 2008 in Sports

Coplen leaves behind Hall of Fame legacy

By The Spokesman-Review

Many of the people who knew Hank Coplen called him “Suitcase” for all of the stops during his long career in education and athletics.

What that really meant was he just had more opportunities to make a positive impact on the young people he coached.

Coplen, 80, a Rogers High School and Eastern Washington graduate, died Saturday after a long battle with cancer.

“He had a marvelous facility to get to know people,” long-time friend Clayton Dunn said. “Within the past couple of months the ambulance had to take him to the hospital. He told me the next day when I went to visit him the ambulance driver was from Davenport.

“It was almost a gift, he really, really, really liked people. It’s my contention the reason he taught and coached in so many places was so he could get to know even more people.”

Coplen taught, coached or was an administrator at Cashmere, Odessa, Columbia Basin College, Snohomish, Connell, Davenport, Spokane Falls Community College, Highline Community College and Medical Lake before finishing at Spokane Community College in 1988.

He coached CBC to the state junior college men’s basketball title. He became the first athletic director for SFCC in 1966 and coached a championship cross country team that fall and followed it with a basketball championship, becoming the only coach to win basketball titles at two different state community colleges.

“I think Hank Coplen was to the community colleges what Mark Few is to Gonzaga,” former Spokane Falls CC chancellor Terry Brown said. “He brought us our first championship and kept things going.”

“He was great, just his personality and his outlook on life,” retired Community Colleges of Spokane athletic director Maury Ray said. “I met him at least 30 years ago. The thing that struck me over the years was the relationship he had with his players.”

“He was a very strong disciplinarian,” said Larry Heinz, a Hall of Fame baseball coach at Rochester High School and member of the SFCC basketball championship squad. “There was a certain amount of accountability. He said everything we did off the basketball court was an extension of the program.

“Those are qualities those of us who played for him have transferred to our lives.”

Coplen was inducted into the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges Hall of Fame, as well as the Inland Northwest Hall of Fame as a contributor.

Through all the years Coplen was a fixture with the State B Tournament, including a long stint as the tournament director. When he presided over the draw for pairings in 2006, it marked 60 years of involvement with the tournament.

“Hank was truly a great representative of school people because at his core he really cared for kids,” WIAA executive director Mike Colbrese said. “In my mind he was the historian of the B Tournament. He had a wonderful way of talking about his years as a coach and transitioning into his years as tournament manager.

“He had a way that made it interesting for those who were along side him, those who would eventually be there and those who wanted to be there.”

Coplen was born in Coeur d’Alene on Jan. 6, 1928.

He is survived by his second wife, Charlene, whom he married 13 years ago, two children, Kathy Mudge of Reno and John of Pensacola, Fla., and four grandchildren. Jackie, his wife of 43 years, died in 1993.

“You cannot believe the way the phone rang off the hook in the last few months as friends and former players found out about his illness,” Mudge said. “His face just lit up. It was really special to him.”

Services are at 1 p.m. Thursday at Thornhill Valley Funeral Chapel with a private burial and public reception following at Percy’s. Memorials can be made to Hospice of Spokane.

“Hank was a totally selfless man,” Dunn said. “He was always more concerned with other people than himself. He never complained.”

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