SELLERSBURG — During his first practice as the Silver Creek head coach, Scott Schoen noticed an older gentleman in the gym observing. He didn’t know who he was, or what he was doing there.
“I went home and told my wife [Stacey], I said, ‘This old man was at my practice,’” Schoen recently recalled. “She said, ‘Scott, be patient. Let it figure itself out.’”
It didn’t take long for Schoen to make friends with the man, Charlie Popp, and add him to his coaching staff.
“Ten years later I’m so thankful I didn’t say, ‘Hey, get out,’” Schoen recalled with a laugh. “Because that’s my right-hand man.”
Schoen has been missing his right hand, figuratively of course, much of this season. That’s because Popp, who is in his 80s, has been in the hospital since December with a gastrointestinal issue.
“He seems to be doing better,” Schoen said Wednesday.
Still Schoen, the rest of his coaching staff, and his players, miss Popp’s presence at practices and games.
“He has been around for as long as I can remember,” said sophomore forward Emme Rooney, whose father, Dave, is also a Creek assistant coach. “He’s a close family friend of ours, and he’s just the one guy that you love to see there. Every time that you look up and Charlie’s on the bench it is so enlightening to see him because he has been around forever.
“He lives and breathes Silver Creek basketball, and when he isn’t here it’s not the same.”
Popp’s roots run deep at Silver Creek. He was a member of the school’s first boys’ sectional title-winning team (1955).
“He’s forgotten more basketball than I know,” Schoen said. “He’s still got his ticket stub from when Milan won the state championship [in 1954].
“He doesn’t have a kid, or a grandkid, in the program, he coaches because he loves the program. He hangs out, comes and goes to the games with me. … I’ll take a hundred of him. He has no agenda, he just wants to see the Silver Creek program do well.”
Popp was there to see the Dragons win their first five games of the season, including a 65-60 victory over Jeffersonville on Nov. 22. He went into the hospital the following week, though, after Creek suffered its first loss of the season, 55-41 at North Harrison.
“I said, ‘Both of us should’ve been in the hospital after that,’” Schoen joked.
Since then Schoen has been a frequent visitor to Popp’s hospital room, and the entire team made a recent visit to see him there.
As the Dragons (14-3), who are ranked No. 9 in Class 3A, enter the homestretch of one of their best seasons in recent years, there is one thing that would make it even better — Popp’s return.
“Our girls love him, we’ve got to get him better and back out here,” Schoen said.
RED DEVILS CAN STILL WIN OUTRIGHT HHC TITLE
It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for Jeffersonville. First the Red Devils, who were a preseason Top 10 team in Class 4A, lost senior point guard Kelsie James to a season-ending ACL injury in the seventh game. Then during Christmas break, senior standout Nan Garcia went down with one of her own. Alas, all is not lost for Jeff.
The Red Devils can still win the outright Hoosier Hills Conference title, something they haven’t done in three years. After playing at Jasper on Saturday, Jeff (12-7, 5-0) hosts Seymour (7-14, 2-3) on Tuesday night before visiting archrival New Albany (6-11, 2-2) next Friday at the Doghouse in what could be a very interesting conference-championship game for the Red Devils.
Charlestown has been on the wrong end of several close games this season. Tuesday night’s 50-46 overtime loss at Eastern was the latest. The defeat left the 9-9 Pirates 1-4 in games decided by four points or less and 1-6 in those decided by eight or less. In all, Charlestown’s average margin of defeat in its nine losses is just 7.2 points.
However the Pirates, who have lost three in a row, could be primed to pick up some late-season momentum. That’s because their final five regular-season games, beginning with Friday night’s contest against Providence, will be at home. Oh by the way, Charlestown will also be hosting what should be a very competitive Sectional 30.
EAGLES CLINCH SAC TITLE
Lanesville wrapped up its second straight Southern Athletic Conference title with a 60-34 victory over Crothersville last Saturday. The Eagles (17-2) steamrolled their way through the league this season, winning their five games by an average of 23.6 points. Their narrowest win was a 63-53 triumph at New Washington.
Lanesville, which is ranked No. 4 in Class A, looks to keep its momentum going heading into the sectional, which includes three fellow SAC members (New Wash, Borden and South Central) as well as Christian Academy and Rock Creek. The Eagles carry a 13-game winning streak into tonight’s game at Rock Creek before hosting 14-win Orleans on Tuesday, Clarksville next Thursday and New Albany next Saturday. The latter will be a very intriguing game considering that Lanesville coach Angie Hinton guided the Bulldogs to the 4A state title in 1999. Plus, New Albany will be coming off its game against Jeffersonville the night before.