More than a teacher, a coach and a friend

Rob Copeland could light up a room and often did.

I had the pleasure to talk with him many times, and it wasn’t always about sports.

You left a conversation with Robbie in a better mood. He had that way about him and it wasn’t a facade.

He was a wonderful human being who would have been a success in any walk of life. He chose to bring light, sunshine and knowledge into the lives of many people through history and sports. We are better for it. What a wonderful gift.

Please pray for his family and friends.

Rob Copeland died the day before Thanksgiving due to a blood clot.

The 2001 Steubenville Central graduate was 33.

He brought a certain happiness into your life.

There was no such thing as the glass half-empty.

For Robbie, the glass was always full.

“There’s a big hole that I don’t think will ever be filled,” said Harrison Central football coach Justin Kropka.

And, the big hole is not because Rob was a big guy.

The big hole is because of who Rob Copeland was.

His smile lasted for days.

If you did not like Rob Copeland, that was on you.

He was smarter than smart, but, to me, the fun thing about Rob was his humor and biting sarcasm.

It was right down my alley.

It’s not easy to win a state championship in any sport.

There are far too many unseen variables that go on during a season that affect the road traveled.

Copeland led the Steubenville Catholic Central Crusaders to the 2011 Division III Track and Field state title.

To many, that was an easy thing for Copeland to traverse because he only had the best athlete in Division III, and probably the state.

And, if Teddi Jo Maslowski wasn’t the best track and field athlete in the state, the roll call was really short.

Copeland made a lot of great moves that season on and off the track.

The biggest thing he did was also the hardest thing, in my opinion – he used her perfectly during the season.

Copeland did not take his horse and run her into the ground.

Her legs weren’t dead.

Her body wasn’t tired.

But, the head coach, also did that with the other members of the program, especially seniors Margaret Beigel and Katrina Vosteen and sophomores Taylor Zapolnik and Michaela Gotta.

Those five young ladies scored 41 points to beat Versailles by three points.

Teddi won the 100 and 300 hurdles, finished second in the long jump and teamed with Beigel, Vosteen and Zapolnik to win the 4×200 by almost two seconds.

Beigel, Vosteen, Zapolnik and Gotta ran faster than their preliminary time and just got edged, finishing sixth in the 4×100.

“He handled it so well,” said Maslowski, who is preparing to start her senior track season at Duke.

“Even though coach Copeland was head coach only two years, he taught me valuable lessons and insights for both track and life during that time. From training in the hallway during the winter, to celebrating our state title in the summer, he kept his fun and optimistic attitude front and center at every practice. We never had a bad day with coach Copeland.

“Every workout was ‘great!’, every hurdle was ‘awesome,’ and even when you were in a bad mood, he could loosen it up with one of his hugs. He was always smiling and cheering everyone on. His happiness permeated into our team’s mentality and I think celebrating the workouts, races, and small meets on the way to the final stretch of the season played a key role into our victory that year.

“He was always relaxed and having fun. He enjoyed the process of making it there and honestly, he would’ve been just as proud of me if I had scratched all three long jumps, as if I had qualified for junior nationals. That’s one thing that’s hard to find in someone, consistent happiness like coach Copeland had.

“He hugged me so hard when I broke my record at states that my feet weren’t even on the ground, and he shared this type of happiness with everyone so openly that you couldn’t help but feel at peace around him.”

” … to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift” – Steve Prefontaine

Maslowski went to Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium four times, competed in 15 events and stood on the podium 15 times, seven of those on the top step.

I’m not really sure where that ranks in state history, but it’s easily the best from around here.

Maslowski still holds the Division III state record with her 42.61 in the 300 hurdles in 2010.

“I had never had such a relaxed track meet (in 2011), even though it probably should’ve been the most high pressure meet I’d been at yet,” she said. “He reminded me I had nothing to prove and there was no pressure from anyone but myself. I handle college track differently because of how coach Copeland coached us, and it has definitely contributed to my success and enjoyment in it.

“I can’t say senior year or college track would’ve gone the same way without having coach Copeland because I wouldn’t have stopped to appreciate the opportunity I have in the races or take advantage of the workouts. It just wouldn’t be the same if he hadn’t stepped in my junior year when coach (Bob) Stanko stepped down.”

Rob Copeland did not handle the program with kid gloves.

He challenged them daily, just in a different way.

It was as if his “don’t sweat the small stuff” kind of attitude actually permeated its way into their DNA and athletes found a side of themselves they never knew they had.

Teddi was one of them.

She is a driven young woman, no different from the rest of the team.

I watched them all run and they ran for each other, not wanting to let the other person down.

They also didn’t want to let coach Copeland down.

“I could have won a state championship with her on my team,” I am sure far too many sideline coaches said about Teddi, her teammates and that 2011 state championship.


Copeland had a magic hand, magic attitude and a magic personality with those kids.

He brought a different point of view and it clicked.

The last thing Rob Copeland ever had to do was apologize for leading that team to a state championship.

Yet, for some reason, he did.

After this weekend, seven Ohio football teams will stand as state champions.

That is 1 percent of the amount of Ohio high school football teams that started the season.

It’s no easier in track.

A shin splint here, rolled ankle there, pulled hammy here, dropped baton there.

There are way too many variables are present for teams not to win a state title.

“The memory that sticks with me the most is the year our girls were state champions,” Stanko said. “Rob and the team were preparing to go to the infield for the awards ceremony and I told him I would go over and get pictures of them on the podium. He pulled me aside and said, ‘You belong out there with us. I want you on that podium.’

“I was so honored. What a fantastic gesture. But, that was how Rob was. I had a new respect for him since that day. It’s part of the reason I got back into coaching. I wanted to be a part of that. It wasn’t about a state championship, it was about his character that I wanted to be a part of.

“I asked him that summer if he would mind if I joined his coaching staff. He agreed and I can truly say it was so much fun being a part of the program again.”

I don’t know how the Central students were able to walk into his classroom this morning.

I’ve never been in that situation and I can only pray for their hearts to be filled with fond memories of Robbie.

“My heart is broken that others will not have the opportunity to have him as a coach and learn from his example,” Maslowski said. “We need more people like him around, and I’ll continue to keep his memory alive by staying optimistic and seeing every challenge in life as an opportunity.

“I still have the card he wrote me before I left for Duke and on the inside cover he wrote in capital letters, ‘RELAX and HAVE FUN!!’

“This was his way of life and this is how I will always remember him. I can’t believe I won’t be able to catch up with him again in Central’s weight room during a break or send a few texts back and forth about track, but I am more than blessed to have had him as a coach and teacher at such a crucial time period in my life.

“I’ll miss him a lot.”

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at mmathison@heraldstaronline.com, followed on Twitter at @MathisonMike or heard weekday mornings from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. with Joey Klepack and from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Saturdays on WEIR-AM).


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