Opdycke gives up coaching racket
As his final gesture as the boys tennis coach at De Soto, Doug Opdycke bought his players dinner. Then he shocked them by announcing his retirement as their coach.
"It was mostly silent," De Soto sophomore doubles player Dan Hoschouer said of the atmosphere at a Lawrence restaurant following last month's regional meet. "The seniors were pretty shocked. He had been the only coach they had known. It's hard to believe. He's always been my coach."
Hoschouer said Opdycke was more than a coach to him and his teammates. He was a friend on and off the court.
"He was always dedicated to us," he said. "He'd stop us in the hall. He always had something to say to us. He was just a great guy. It's going to be really hard without him. He's been here a long time."
Opdycke joined the Wildcats coaching ranks in 1968 after graduating from Fort Hays State University. His coaching duties over the past 37 years included stints as the junior high football, wrestling and track coaches.
He also coached high school wrestling before replacing Jeff Hodges as the boys tennis coach following the 2000 season. Opdycke first joined the tennis program in 1990 as an assistant coach.
Over the years, Opdycke taught physical education, health, physical science and an array of general science classes. Despite trying to balance his coaching and teaching duties, Opdycke often found himself distracted.
"I spent a lot of time thinking about tennis," Opdycke confessed. "It was affecting my ability to teach. It's a real time consumer."
Opdycke, who will continue to teach at De Soto, said he enjoyed the relationships he was able to build with his players.
Although he had the opportunity to be around the students on a daily basis as a teacher, Opdycke said his coaching relationship allowed him to get closer to them emotionally.
"The best part of coaching is watching the kids develop over a season," he said. "It's fun to watch them have fun and develop skills. Not being around them on that level will be hard."
Opdycke's favorite personal experience as De Soto's boys tennis coach was escorting Zac Blue to the 2001 state meet and mentoring him to a runner-up singles finish as a sophomore.
Blue, a transfer from St. Thomas Aquinas, eventually lost to Parsons' Chris Schultz 6-0, 6-0 in the finals after starting the tournament with three straight wins.
With the absence of Opdycke in the lineup, athletic director Roy Hawley and Principal Dave Morford were forced to fill two positions.
De Soto girls tennis coach Michael Sullivan will pull double duty and fill Opdycke's vacancy as the boys coach, while former Wildcats volleyball coach Amy Mispagel will fill his role as the De Soto girls assistant coach.
A replacement for Sullivan as boys assistant coach has not been named.
Opdycke said Sullivan would have been his pick to fill the boys program top spot.
"When I turned in my resignation, I hoped Mike would be the choice," Opdycke said. "He enjoys the game and enjoys coaching. He's as good of a coach as he is a teacher. He's well organized and knows tennis. He'll do fine."
Sullivan acknowledged that he was inexperienced in the areas of managing and motivating a sports team when he arrived at De Soto, but Opdycke gave him the tools he needed to be successful.
"I had to learn how to be a coach," Sullivan said. "He had been a coach for so long. He knew what he was doing. It was good to be able to work with someone who did it so well."
That wasn't lost on his players, Hoschouer said.
"He loved coaching and I loved playing for him," he said. "He's a great coach -- a great guy. I'm gonna miss him a lot."