By Stephen Smoot
“I’m just as excited now as I was 43 years ago,” said Donnie Kopp, a Pendleton County magistrate judge who also happens to have two state girls’ basketball titles to his credit.
Kopp has assumed the head coaching job after the resignation of Micah Bailey. Bailey led the team to the state tournament this year, only to bow out against the highly accomplished squad from Cameron.
Though born and raised in Clarksburg, Kopp admits that his heart has always loved Pendleton County. He said, “When I was 12 years old, an old man brought me here fishing and I said, ‘I’ll live here one of these days.’”
He grew up in a political household with his father, Don, serving more than 30 years in the West Virginia House of Delegates, including as Speaker Pro Tempore. His father encouraged him to run for office, but “my two passions were teaching and coaching.”
Kopp played high school basketball, then traveled to then Salem College to serve as a student assistant on the coaching staff. Afterwards, he confronted a unique choice. Join Jim Boeheim’s staff at Syracuse and dive into the early formative years of Big East Conference basketball, or serve as head coach of Franklin High School.
“I really didn’t want to go to Syracuse at that time,” Kopp recalled.
Kopp would take Franklin to the state tournament, but ran into a bit of controversy along the way. The school board in 1982, as the team prepared to compete in the state tournament, declined to rehire Kopp due to accusations that he dipped snuff on school time. In the very next meeting, approximately 250 showed up to support the coach.
The board not only rehired Kopp, but also rescinded its snuff rule.
Not long after, Kopp found himself in a dilemma. He received a job offer from Washington Irving, a high school in his home county of Harrison. “It was a hard decision,” he recalled, “but I went back.
Over the years, Kopp gravitated toward his father’s political aspirations for him. He was elected as Harrison County circuit clerk and magistrate. He later returned to Pendleton County and won election as magistrate judge in 2020. Kopp said, “I retired and I wanted to move back here.”
All the while, he remained connected to the sport that was always his true passion. For nearly three decades, he worked high school and college games all over north central West Virginia as an official.
In April, the resignation of Bailey left open the opportunity for Kopp to return to coaching. Kopp, among several others, submitted a resume. “I threw my hat in the ring,” he joked.
Kopp’s first decision lay in putting together a staff. He selected Dan Miller to serve as junior varsity coach and Jeremy Townsend to assist with the varsity.
Townsend shared that “I was excited to be asked to help with girls’ basketball.” Also an assistant with the softball program, Townsend said, “After talking with Donnie and hearing his plans and ideas for the girls’ basketball program, I am looking forward to working with Donnie Kopp, Dan Miller, and the girls this fall.”
Kopp admits that over the years “the game has really changed,” but “I’m excited. I think we’ll have fun.”
He plans to implement a suffocating full court defense, relying on Pendleton County’s speed, athleticism, skill, and, most of all, aggression. Kopp explained that “I like the way they play and they seem to have a wonderful attitude.”
Also, he noted that though experienced, his team is “so young.”
“It’s called ‘the system,’” he said. The team will model the approaches most recently seen at Glenville and West Liberty. “We’ll run and press and play. I’m going to go full platoon. We’ll go as hard as we can.”
The goal with unrelenting pressure is “we want teams to dread the pressure of not being able to make entry passes.” He added that “if they buy in, I’m convinced they’ll be successful.”
Kopp also brings passion and intensity to the game. Even when talking about games that will not happen until next year, the excitement becomes contagious.
“I’m tickled to death,” Kopp admitted, “I’m so excited.”