Growing up in Story County is probably much like growing up anywhere in Iowa. Schools are much the same, some larger than others, most offering an excellent education opportunity and all having many great educators shaping the minds of their students.
One of those educators, who spent time in the Nevada School District, is now retiring from education in the state. Former teacher and coach Brian Coppess is leaving the Heartland to begin yet another chapter in his life in another Heartland — so to speak — in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Moving from an altitude of 1,001 feet to that of 7,700 feet will involve more than just unpacking and adjusting to new surroundings.
Coppess came to Nevada in 1985, where he first taught English. In his fourth year in the Nevada School District, he added the hat of half-time athletic director, middle school wrestling coach and assistant high school wrestling coach.
Wrestling was not something new to Coppess. He wrestling at Simpson College in Indianola and was team captain his senior year. His teaching and coaching profession was taking off.
“Being athletic director is a big deal,” said Coppess. “I really enjoyed being able to help expand opportunities at Nevada, and we added events to both track and wrestling.”
During those early years at Nevada, Coppess and his wife, Patty, didn’t have children. In 1990, the couple had their first son, Casey, and according to Coppess, his entire perspective of life changed.
“Having a child of my own taught me how to treat children,” commented Coppess. “I learned what I needed to do to be the best for kids with their education.”
Coppess said that living and teaching in a town the size of Nevada, he would run into parents of his students in the store and at events. He said that the parents were always eager to learn who was in charge of their children at school.
Memories came easy to Coppess when asked about some of them during his time at Nevada.
“I have kept in touch with many people from Nevada,” he said. “I had wrestlers that qualified for the state tournament, and it was during those times that not only the wrestlers and cheerleaders hung together, but the entire family did as well. The people of Nevada always treated my family well — Casey and Kirby and Patty. We all took care of each other, both children and adults.”
In the 1998-99 school year, Coppess accepted a position at Urbandale High School where he began another phase of his career in education in Iowa. He was activity director for sixth through 12th grades. Four years later, he was named associate principal at the high school. After obtaining his Doctor of Education from UNI in 2010, he took the position of principal at Urbandale High School.
Making a move from Nevada to Urbandale was also a big move from being inside the classroom to now outside looking in.
“In Nevada I knew all the students,” explained Coppess. “Now I was in a high school with 1,200 students, which made an impact on a broader scale. Now, everything that I was about, was all of a sudden different. I had to take what I knew and apply it at a broader scope. Now I am working with adults, coaches, teachers, using what I had learned to be important to these individuals.”
Coppess is now retiring from public education in Iowa. He tells about long days with long hours, 10- to 12-hour days. He began looking around the country for an assistant professor position. A telephone interview with Western State Colorado University, located at Gunnison, Colo., brought an invitation to possibly take the next step.
Gunnison is located in the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, 7,700 feet high, and located 30 miles south of Crested Butte, recently named the number-one ski town in the United States. On Nov. 17, Coppess will begin his new position teaching those students who need to become certified to become a high school principal.
“I have always only lived in Iowa,” he explains. “I am excited to be starting a new job where there will actually be some flexible time. Patty and I both ride motorcycles and bicycles and love spending time outdoors.”
When Coppess was asked about who he considers his hero, he did not hesitate when he answered — Dan Gable.
“His book, ‘A Wrestling Life,’ motivates me,” he replied. Gable is quite possibly the greatest wrestler and/or greatest coach of all time. If he’s not, he ranks up there. That is, the greatest coach in any sport of all time. Yet, he is completely accessible and seems humble. He’s a family man. When I think of someone to emulate, it’s hard for me to imagine a better role model.”
Coppess added: “I would mention Ray Murray and Joe Toot, too. Ray made me his partner, but led in all the tough cases. I learned a lot from Ray about working with people (staff and parents) and managing students. Ray was patient with me and coached me through mistakes; his style built my confidence and taught me to do things I never believed possible. Joe Toot, because of his character and class. Sometimes I think to myself, ‘How do I want to be perceived in this situation? How would Joe conduct himself at this time?’ That has helped me make good decisions at times that I might have otherwise done something I might have regretted.”
Moving on to a new chapter in one’s life can be both exciting and profound. The challenge to changing courses within a career can be both exciting and profound as well.
Once again, Coppess will be working to impact those around him. This time, he will be impacting the lives of those educators, who will be stepping into similar footprints as Coppess.
I am pretty sure that everyone will benefit. Ted Hugunin, one of his prior students at Nevada High School, said about his teacher and coach, “When I reflect on my experiences with Brian as my coach, he did a great job encouraging me. He was and still is a great communicator, direct but supportive, and always creating an environment that was welcoming and safe.”