I joined the Tri-County Times staff right before the 2002-03 school year.
Since that time, I’ve had a working relationship with Denny Hopkins.
The first football game I covered at the paper was the 2002 opener when the Eagles lost a 17-16 verdict against Corunna. I remember that game well. Corunna had a field goal attempt I swore went wide. I was writing the results in my notebook and when I looked up after doing so, the referees eventually called the 20-yard field goal attempt good.
“When the kicker takes his helmet off in disgust and 20 seconds later the two officials underneath have to ask about it and then say it’s good, you have to wonder,” Hopkins said after the game about that play. I bet Denny remembers that field goal attempt as well.
Over the next 20 years, I was able to watch many more of Hopkins’s football and boys basketball teams play many games. On the football field, his teams were some of the most entertaining I’ve ever watched play the game. In fact, after that loss to Corunna that 2002 team would win its next eight games, win the Flint Metro League championship and make the playoffs. It would be the first of 16 straight Linden football teams to qualify for the playoffs and the first of seven Metro League championship teams Denny coached.
But, as most already know, Hopkins won’t be on the sideline next fall when the Linden Eagles begin their varsity football season in 2022. Hopkins recently retired as Linden’s head coach after a remarkable career of coaching varsity baseball, boys basketball and football teams every year since the late 1970s. He’s an icon, and it only should be a matter of time an athletic court, field or stadium should be named after him somewhere on Linden’s campus. Hopkins’s teams were a blast to watch, but what I will miss more than the teams is Hopkins himself.
After a few years of him bugging me to attend Linden’s annual football team canoe trip that was held the weekend before the start of the official football practices, I finally went in 2012. During it, I saw exactly why he remained a coach for more than 40 years. He loved his players, and that showed while at the camp.
The players egged Denny to slide down a makeshift water slide. All it involved was a watered tarp on a large sandbank with a ‘speed bump’ like sand pile at the end that propelled you into the air before landing in the Muskegon River. Denny did it and will tell you today he still feels that trip down the slide.
Later on, there was karaoke, and no one sang more songs than Denny. His first song was a Beyonce song. He later sang many other songs including Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” The players ate it up.
Also, there was the cornhole tournament. Me and Denny end up being teammates and lost in the quarterfinals.
At other times, we had other mo re personable talks. One that stuck out was Denny talking about watching his daughter, Cori, play volleyball. The subject came up when we were watching volleyball during the Summer Olympics. You could see the sense of pride in his eye when he talked about those days.
The trip ranks as one of my greatest highlights during my career at the paper. The two other times I attended, I came just for Saturday. That included this August when I attended sensing this may be Denny’s last year on the sideline. If it was, I had to do one last football canoe trip.
So many times with my job you get to see only the coach side of the people I work with. I only get only occasional glimpses of the actual person beyond the coach. Denny was one of the few I got to experience a large part of the actual person as well, and did so for 20 years. And, if he doesn’t mind me saying it, he’s a pretty cool and personable guy.
When the 2022 football season begins, Linden football will certainly move forward. That’s not going to change, obviously. But, without Denny there, I’ll miss someone I can call a good friend. Enjoy your retirement, and your grandkids, Denny. You deserve it.