CASSVILLE – This past Friday evening, retired Cassville basketball coach Dennis Uppena was surrounded by friends, family, fans and former players, as the basketball court at Cassville High School was being dedicated in his honor.
Through the efforts of Cassville graduate Clint Nemitz, and the approval of the Cassville School Board, Dennis Uppena Court was officially dedicated in honor of the longtime basketball coach.
“I don’t think you ever fully understand the impact you’ve had, or can appreciate how people feel about you, until something like this happens,” said Dennis Uppena of the honor.
And what an impact he has had at Cassville High School and within the Cassville community.
As a 1967 graduate of Cassville High School, Uppena returned to his roots in 1977, where he spent eight seasons coaching the junior varsity boys basketball team.
In 1985 Uppena stepped up to the varsity ranks, and for the next 29 season’s made quite a name for himself before retiring after the 2013-14 campaign.
In 29 years at the varsity level, Uppena’s teams have won nine conference titles, 11 regional titles, seven sectional titles, three state runner-up titles and three state championship titles.
He was named the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 1994 and was inducted into the WBCA Hall of Fame in 2009.
He coached in 678 varsity games, accumulating a career record of 441-237, which included a conference record of 261-133 and a playoff record of 71-26.
But, for anyone who knows Dennis Uppena, it’s not the wins and losses that he wants to be remembered for. It’s the impact he had on the student/athletes over the years, and his genuine efforts to help shape respectable and successful young adults.
“I think every coach should, and I really think most do, put something ahead of winning,” Uppena said. “And for most of them, I think it has to be that character building with the kids. There is a value in sports and extra circulars.”
If you really want to understand what kind of an impact coach Uppena has had on his players over the years, you don’t need to look any further than the fact that 29 of his former players have gone on to coach basketball at some level or another, including his four sons; Mark (Lancaster), Mike (Potosi), Scott (Royall) and Tom (Darlington).
His sons spoke fondly of their father’s influence at Friday night’s dedication, and when it came time for the man of the hour to speak, he graciously shared the moment with everyone there.
“One of the things I wanted to do was get a chance to talk to the Cassville fans and the former players face to face. That was important to me,” Dennis said. “To share some of the memories I have, and also to personally thank so many of the people that you don’t always think about.”
Friday night’s dedication also kicked off the annual alumni men’s basketball tournament, which for Uppena was the perfect forum to share his honor.
“They asked me about it, and I told them that I didn’t want to take away from any high school game,” Uppena explained. “When you have a lot of alumni guys coming back, that’s the perfect time to do it. Those are the guys that made it happen.”
For Dennis, there were three things he wanted to share during his dedication speech, which included some of his fondest memories while coaching, some meaningful quotes that he values even to this day, and to thank his players, parents, coaches and community members that helped in Cassville’s success over the years.
“I’ve had more than my 15 minutes of fame, and it’s all because of what so many other people have done in the community, from the fans to certainly the administration and staff, the assistant coaches, the grade school coaches and the parents,” said Uppena. “Nobody ever accomplishes anything very great without the help of lots of other people. I look at this as a community recognition. It’s not just a Denny Uppena recognition.”
For Uppena, his two greatest coaching influences were Bruce Kieser and Lynn Okey, both of whom he played for at Cassville High School.
“When I look back and I think about how I interact with kids, and the different things that I came to believe that were important, an awful lot of that goes back to Lynn Okey, who coached me in football for three years and in track for four years,” Uppena said. “The way he approached coaching and the way he challenged kids was, I think, the right way to do it.”
If you were to write a book about Dennis Uppena’s coaching career at Cassville High School, my suggestion for the title would be, “The right way to do it.” It not only summarizes his records and accomplishments, but his approach to coaching and the obvious impact he had on his players and community.
“Coming back to your home town, and all those years of teaching and coaching, I guess it meant something to people more than myself,” Uppena said of Friday night’s dedication.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would be coaching. It was not something that I was preparing for,” Uppena reflected back to his start. “I’m hoping that they understood that I was basically doing it for the kids.”