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Friendswood football: Six decades, four coaches

August 24, 2018

Over the last 60 years, only four men have held the head coach position for the Friendswood varsity football team.

J.D. Burns (1958-64), Henry Winston (1965-1991), Steve Van Meter (1992-2011) and Robert Koopmann (2012-present) have each left their mark.

Friendswood Principal Mark Griffon has connections to all four men, and he says each has established a model program.

“Coach Burns was my junior high coach, and I played for Henry,” Griffon said. “With Burns, he set the foundation of conditioning, working with the community and working with the faculty.

“He was at the school long before he was the head coach. I think his longevity was him not getting any friction from teachers, administrative staff or the community because of the way he interacted with them.

‘Men of few words’

“Both Burns and Winston were men of few words. They set their expectations very high, and they didn’t get any challenges from administration, parents or faculty. They said this is the way we’re going to do it, and it was a positive way. On top of that, they had success.”

Although documentation lists Burns with only a 32-32-5 record in seven years as head coach, his final three years he posted records of 8-2, 8-3-1 and 7-1-2.

The 2018 season will actually be the 80th of Friendswood High School football. There are photos and records documenting those early six-man seasons.

The Handbook of Texas lists Friendswood as having 100 residents and seven businesses in 1933 before those numbers slipped to 75 residents and two businesses in the 1940s.

The community incorporated in 1960, and by 1968, Friendswood had 26 businesses and a population just under 1,700.

Now, with a population in the neighborhood of 40,000, Friendswood has obviously boomed, but many of its old-school values remain.

Koopmann said the coaching stability is reflective of the overall situation of Friendswood High School.

“It’s about treating kids right and doing what’s important to the community,” Koopmann said. “When I got here 24 years ago, coach Winston’s health had already started to fail, but you knew all about what he stood for, and all of that translated over to coach Van Meter.

“Steve actually lived with coach Winston for a while, and it was a natural progression.

“At times, you can feel like an outsider in this town even after 20-something years; so for Friendswood ISD to trust me is certainly awe-inspiring, and sometimes you feel the weight of that situation.

Winston, Van Meter and Koopmann have all been successful, too.

Winston fashioned a 171-108-5 record and won the school’s only state championship in 1973, a 15-0 Class 2A team on which Van Meter played.

Van Meter then left his mark with a 148-80-1 record which included two state semifinal and two state quarterfinal appearances. Koopmann was the offensive coordinator on those squads.

Koopmann has averaged 8.5 wins per season, and made the playoffs in Class 6A four straight years with squads that really had enrollment numbers more fit for Class 5A.

Griffon, a longtime head basketball coach at Friendswood, know the effect of success in any endeavor.

“FHS has a long tradition of getting kids involved, whether it’s drama, musicals, the Wranglerettes, or anything else,” Griffon said. “That’s the key. Involvement. I’ve seen it over and over again. I lived it when I came through here.

“Kids that are involved in co-curricular stuff … they’ll give you more in the classroom, act better in the hallways, and they’ll just feed a whole positive environment for your school.

Coaching and teaching

“Daron Scott, Steve Haffelder, Nathan Roher and other coaches have been our teachers of the year because whether you coach or teach, it’s the same thing. You’re just switching from the sport to the subject. If you do a great job coaching, you’ll be a great teacher.”

Koopmann was a longtime teacher at FHS before he took the coaching reins.

“My first week of teaching here was freshman biology,” he said. “When I gave my first assignment, every kid turned it in. Every kid brought their book to class every day. Every kid had a pent to write with.

“I was stunned, but then after you’ve been here you find that it’s a special community and school district, not just on the athletic side, but on the classroom side, too.

“There’s longevity elsewhere. Mark Griffon has been here forever. Dr. (Myrlene) Kennedy was here 50-something years. Pepper Smith, an English teacher, has been here 30-something years.

“I’ve been in a school district where the good students are hiding the grades they made because the norm is not to be that person. That’s definitely not the case here.”

Many Friendswood graduates return to the Mustang coaching fold because they know the expectations and agree with them.

“When I first got here, there were only two people on the whole football staff who weren’t from Friendswood,” Koopmann said. “That’s changed a little bit, but there still remains a unique relationship between the athletic department and the teachers.

“Every coach except myself is teaching. I talk to other coaches in the area about their kids. I tell them I have teachers who care. They’ll contact me and the parents about a kid who has a 69. They won’t give him anything, but they’ll do the best they can to motivate the kid.

“Coaches will tell me, ‘Man, I wish that was the atmosphere we had at our school.’ Sometimes you listen to those coaches, and it sounds like it’s almost an adversarial relationship they have on their campuses.

“We don’t have that here, and it all starts with Mark Griffon. Mark’s belief is that every kid should be doing something. Whether it’s fine arts, the athletic department or robotics, everything goes hand in hand.

“At Friendswood, you’re not going home at 3:45. You’re going to be involved in something.”

Griffon said success and longevity are often the rule rather than the exception at FHS.

“You have great parent support and the kids are high achievers,” Griffon said. “They want to work hard at everything.

“Greg Dick has been here a long time in band. Kathy Powdrell has been here a long time in fine arts. Renae Simons has been a teacher and done our academic decathlon for more than 35 years.

“It’s everywhere. They just buy into the tradition of success and it feeds off itself.”

tdunnam@hcnonline.com

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