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Coach Mike Pope has devoted his life to coaching and teaching kids great life lessons!
By Bill Mitchell - Herald correspondent


Editor's note: Bill Mitchell covered high school sports for The State newspaper in Columbia from 1965-1987 and retired in 2000. He graduated from the University of South Carolina with a Masters in European History. Mitchell was asked by The Herald to read and review the book "Do They Play Football in Heaven?'' that follows former Indian Land football coach Mike Pope through his various stops. The following is Mitchell's thoughts. -- Barry Byers, The Herald, Assistant Sport Editor

I thought I knew of Mike Pope. Rambling through the rather muddled file cabinet that passes for my brain now, I found the file.

Mike Pope, football and track coach, assistant football duties at Lancaster and Sumter, head football and track coach at Blackville-Hilda where he had a state championship football team, moved on to Indian Land. There the file ended.
That's just the dry bare bones of a wonderful story brought to us by Wilt Browning, a veteran sports writer, and although Pope was never the biggest winner around, he was, and continues to be, admired and respected by many of his peers. He was special in the business.

Browning's 211-page paperback book "Do They Play Football in Heaven?," covers much of the coach's life through his courtship and marriage to wife Ginger, fatherhood, shifts from one school to anther. Interesting antidotal information and entertaining, but not what makes the book a great story or read.

What is thrilling about the book is Pope's unwavering devotion to the highest ideals of his profession. The building of good people, whether they wear your uniform or not, the teaching of life's lessons through sport are its goals. In this case, football, but the same applies to all sports. Pope lives it.

Pope's medical trials and tribulations, including diabetes that caused the loss of both lower legs, and his reaction to it, is uplifting. How many times had he exhorted his charges to "suck it up." the time came when he lived what he preached.

He moved past the loss of his legs, worked like a Trojan at rehab and mastered his prothesis. He continues to coach at the college level as a volunteer and run what is his passion, the Hawg Tuff camps for offensive linemen.

Early on, he established the camps. Today the one-day events are held as far afield as Texas. Pope keeps the costs as low as possible. He wants to spread the football gospel.

The highest ideals of coaching are often almost Don Quixote like, virtually impossible for mortal man to live with. The competitive urge to win is always high. All too often fans, parents, coaches and school administrators alike lose track of the forest for the trees.

The creation of better people is the ultimate goal, a very high one indeed. And almost impossible to reach.

The pressure to win in our society has reached down to our youngest children. There is nothing wrong with winning. It just isn't everything.

We see even legendary coaches fired because of a lapse in the win column. It happens all too often. Mike Pope lives the code. It costs him at least one job.

Mike Pope's story reminds us of what is should be all about, what we need more of and inspires all of us to spend more time on the goal rather than the means to an end. This book is a great story well-told and brings us back to what is important in athletics.

Do they play football in heaven? They will in Mike Pope's heaven. That's heaven itself.

The Mike Pope story is published by Alabaster Book Publishing of P.O. Box 401, Kernersville, N.C., and may be ordered direct. Price is $20. It can be had through the Hawg Tuff website http://www.hawgtuff,net or on rhe book website



Posted on 7/17 10:33 AM | IP:

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