Late Nancy Hopkins left lasting impact on local volleyball coaches

photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World File Photo

Former Free State High School physical education teacher Nancy Hopkins is pictured in this file photo from May 2017 as she retired following 44 years in the school district.

Free State head volleyball coach Jayme Savage, who has been at the helm for two years now, knows she has the late Nancy Hopkins to thank for getting to this point in her career.

Savage played for Hopkins at Free State from 2000-03 and had a chance to join her staff in 2008. Savage was an assistant for Hopkins until she retired in 2014 after 18 seasons guiding the program.

Savage didn’t become Free State’s head coach until 2019, but she credits Hopkins for getting her coaching career on the right track.

“The fact she hired me as an assistant kind of paved the way for where I’m currently at as a coach today,” Savage said. “That opened up a number of doors for me. She always pushed me to want to be a head coach one day. She was a part of that process.

“She always supported me,” Savage added. “She always wanted me to do what I was born to do.”

Hopkins, 69, went into cardiac arrest early on Jan. 3 and spent the week in intensive care before dying on Jan. 9. Hopkins was a teacher for 44 years and coached for 42 years in Lawrence, including her time at West Middle School, when she created the junior high volleyball program and helped set up other sports for girls.

Those who knew her said Hopkins’ impact will affect the community for a long time, particularly within the local volleyball scene. Lawrence High head volleyball coach Stephanie Scarbrough also had a strong bond with Hopkins.

Scarbrough first met Hopkins when she was 11-years-old and was trying out for Lawrence’s junior volleyball team. Hopkins was never Scarbrough’s direct coach or teacher, but that didn’t seem to matter.

Hopkins managed to help secure Scarbrough a walk-on spot at Texas State University. Scarbrough eventually earned a scholarship, which she said would not have been possible without Hopkins’ assistance.

“She took an interest in every kid,” Scarbrough said. “She was just the most unselfish person I’ve ever met.”

From a lifetime of memorable moments, Scarbrough recently recalled that her favorite memory of Hopkins was their regular walks at the dog park with Hopkins and Hopkins’ wife, Deborah Bamrick.

“(That was) where I could really recognize that she’s such a beautiful person,” Scarbrough said.

So what was she like as a person?

“Tenacious, stubborn, but unselfish,” Scarbrough shared. “She would never put her feelings or her needs for anything over anyone else’s. She was just unselfish and kind.”

That type of mindset led to a legendary coaching and teaching career.

Hopkins, who also ran a high school club volleyball program for 12 years when she was still coaching at West, racked up nearly 800 wins in her career. She led the Firebirds to the state tournament four times, including a runner-up finish in 1999.

“Working under her I saw just how much time and effort goes into successfully running a 6A program,” Savage said. “There are a lot of details and a lot of time that goes into it, in order for it to be successful and to create a legacy to live by.”

Hopkins left a legacy in more ways than one.

With Title IX set to go into effect in 1972, Hopkins teamed up with fellow Lawrence junior high physical education teachers Carol Church and Donna Beasley to set up volleyball and track teams for girls at the junior high level in the first year. After that, she helped create basketball programs as well.

Hopkins also established an LGBT section in the library at Free State, helped FSHS raise funds for a new cardio room and was always willing to help anyone else bring their dreams and visions to life.

“It is like losing a mom,” Scarbrough said. “The thing she has taught me as far as coaching goes is to always lead with your heart. To ultimately let those kids know that you are there for them if and when they ever need.”

A GoFundMe account was created for Hopkins to help with medical bills and other incidental expenses. After surpassing the original goal of $10,000 in just 36 hours, nearly $17,000 had been raised as of Wednesday morning.

Organizers said the GoFundMe page will remain open for those who wish to help.

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