Tim Pope, Union High School’s athletic director and its head basketball and golf coach, announced his retirement at the end of the 2014-2015 school year after over 28 years of service to the Sampson County School system. During a career spanning nearly three decades, Pope touched many young lives both on the court and in the classroom all the while compiling a basketball ball record of 295-231 during his 21 years on the Spartan’s bench.
After earning his undergraduate business degree from Campbell University and his Masters in Sports Administration from The United States Sports Academy in Mobile, Ala., Pope returned to Sampson County and his alma mater, Union High School.
He accepted a teaching and coaching position and was soon so deeply entrenched in the community that it seemed he had never left. Pope led the Spartans to eight regular season conference titles, 10 conference tournament championships and finished as runner up in the NCHSAA Sectionals 4 out of 5 years in the early 1990’s.
Pope’s love for sports and desire to coach was kindled during his time as a student athlete at Union High School, where he played football and basketball for the Spartans.
“I was fortunate enough to grow up in the Dean Smith era and to play basketball for Coach Nathan Gay,” said Pope. “Both those men taught their players that teamwork is important, playing the right way, playing hard, having fun, treating students and players with respect and creating a family atmosphere that encouraged former players to come back. Those were things I took away from both Coach Gay and Coach Smith, but especially from Coach Gay.”
It seems that it was Coach Gay’s influence that drove Pope during his coaching career. Pope continued to extol the virtues of his mentor, saying, “When I took the job at Union I wanted to put a team on the court that would make him (Coach Gay) proud. Union basketball and its tradition was something that was important to me because of Coach Gay, and it was something I took very seriously and worked very hard at, trying to help the players grow as students and athletes and become the best citizens possible.”
Pope is highly respected by his peers. Longtime Wallace-Rose Hill basketball coach Steve Robinson spoke highly of Pope.
“I am happy for Tim in his retirement but I will miss competing against his teams, they were always well prepared and played hard no matter the situation,” Robinson said. “We are good friends and we talked a lot about basketball and other things during the off season, but when it was game time you knew you would get his best shot each time out.”
Robinson also commented on Pope’s stint as athletic director.
“When Tim became A.D., he was an advocate for the basketball coaches in our conference. He was a real voice for us and I have a lot of respect and appreciation for him in that regard.”
When asked how he knew it was time to hang up the whistle and hand the reins of Union basketball and golf over to someone else, Pope quoted another recently retired North Carolina high school coach.
“I was struck by something Phil Padgett, the former Southwest Onslow football coach said last year when he retired. He said, ‘When the small things start to bother you and you don’t feel like you can give those kids the time and effort they need and deserve, it is time to get out,’” Pope recited.
While it was not an easy decision for Pope, he feels confident that he is leaving the Union basketball program in capable hands with Keagan Warren.
“Keagan is a student of the game and he loves the game,” the longtime coach said. “He is going to step in and work hard and do the things necessary to move the program forward. I have no reservations about Keagan taking Union basketball and doing it the right way.”