By Tommy Rush

It was great to see all the High School Football teams and fans in Natchitoches a few weeks ago. Our City had the privilege of hosting the Louisiana High School State Football Championships at Turpin Stadium and for those who love sports, that’s a really big deal.

I was never a great athlete, but I have always loved sports, especially football. Though I never played on a team that reached the playoffs, much less a State Championship game, I still remember several of my coaches and the things they taught me. Even today I have the blessing of calling several active and retired coaches good friends. I’ve been a pastor for over 30 years in college towns, which means I’ve been the pastor for a lot of coaches and their families.

One thing I love about retired coaches is the fact that none of them can quit coaching. Most of them love to talk sports and share stories of memorable games or teams they were a part of. They usually can tell you a good story about every former player and if you sit down close to them, they will. I have always admired the love and connection shared between coaches and former players.

John Ropp is one of the coaches that I’m blessed to serve as pastor. He has been a great friend and a tremendous inspiration to me and my family since the first day we came to Natchitoches. He grew up in a house across the street from First Baptist on Second Street and has been a member of the church for almost 60 years. John played football for NSU in the early 1950’s and coached at NSU from 1966 to 1975. If you have ever had the joy of meeting him, you know why so many people love him and his beautiful wife, Mrs. Quincy. Coach Ropp loves to write and share poems and a few years ago he wrote a little limerick titled, “When I Was a Coach.”

Somethings in life are not to be
No— to be a pro was not for me
But I had a better profession with student-athletes to measure Just to be called “Coach” was my life golden pleasure
I’d not trade this for any fee

In a day when so many coaches and athletes have become tainted for lack of character, I’m grateful for men like John Ropp who coached as much for character as he did for championships. Even at the age of 90, he inspires me to live for God, to love my wife and family, to give my best effort everyday and to be a devoted team player. Another limerick he wrote titled, “Thoughts of an Ol’ Coach,” tells me why he is so dear to all who know him.

What better memories could there be
I love each player and they respected me
To touch a young players life I wanted to do my part And they are all in the Hall of Fame of my heart Each year I thought, “What a team were we!”