DARLINGTON – Mike Hopkins has given so much to the basketball programs at Darlington High School over his 35 years at the school, but when it came to choosing between his personal health or coaching the game he loved he had a tough choice to make.
In the end, he listened to his head and his body over his heart and decided to resign his position as head boys’ basketball coach at Darlington effective immediately.
“I’ve always said it’s been a privilege to coach here at Darlington, but I’m stepping down for the right reason. My heart still loves basketball and coaching, but my head and body told me it was time to give it up,” said Hopkins, 60, citing recent health concerns as his main reason for vacating the position.
Hopkins will remain a social studies teacher at Darlington, but he felt he had to step away from some of his extra-curricular activities that were taking a toll on his health. In addition to teaching and coaching, Hopkins served as the National Honor Society advisor and student council advisor.
Hopkins said he gave 100 percent of himself to all those roles, which led to him working long hours seven days a week during the school year and into the summer. Something had to give.
“Basketball eats up a lot of time. While it hasn’t caused my health problems, it has certainly contributed to some of it,” admitted Hopkins. “I’m looking out for myself and everything I’m involved in. I can’t afford to keep putting in that time, and I don’t want to cheat my players, my students or the National Honor Society. I never could take a day off during the basketball season. And, when I did get to sleep I was getting rest but no relaxation.”
Hopkins, who holds a 469-342 overall record in 33 seasons at all levels, has coached basketball at Darlington since the 1981-82 school year, starting with a three-year stint as the junior varsity and freshman coach with the Redbirds’ boys’ basketball program. Prior to coming to Darlington, he served a year as the freshman coach at his alma mater, Beloit Catholic, and two years as JV coach at Beloit Turner.
The Beloit College graduate took over as head coach at Darlington in 1984 and manned the helm of the Redbirds for eight seasons. During the magical 1989-90 season, he led the ‘Birds the school’s lone state basketball appearance, which they capped with a 58-44 victory over Eleva-Strum to capture the Class C state title and finish the season with a 26-1 record.
In 1992, Hopkins moved from the boys’ program to the girls’ program where he spent seven seasons whipping the Lady Redbirds into shape. He guided the girls’ team to their first-ever conference title during the 1997-98 season and a co-SWAL-II championship title in 1998-99 before stepping away from coaching for four years.
Hopkins returned as the Redbirds’ head boys’ basketball coach in 2003 and has led them to three league titles during the past 13 seasons.
He has posted a 361-247 varsity record in his 28 years at Darlington with a 270-187 mark in 21 seasons with the boys’ team and a 90-60 mark with the girls’ team. He has won six conference titles (1989-90, 1997-98, 1998-99, 2004-05, 2009-10 and 2010-11) along with three regional titles (1988-89, 89-90 and 2015-16), a sectional title (89-90) and a state title (89-90).
Last season, Hopkins guided the Redbirds to a 20-6 overall record and a sectional final appearance. The Redbirds finished second in the SWAL at 12-2 and made a strong post-season run, earning the program’s first regional championship title in 20 years and a sectional victory over rival Cuba City, 38-32, before falling to Aquinas, 50-49, in a thrilling WIAA Division 4 sectional semifinal game in Baraboo to narrowly miss out on a trip to Madison.
The Redbirds will be in a good position to battle for the SWAL title next season and hopefully make another deep post-season run since they are scheduled to return all five starters, their top seven scorers and 10 letter winners from last year’s squad.
“I talked to the players after I made my decision and explained the situation. I didn’t want to cheat those players, but I also didn’t think it would be fair to them to not give 100 percent,” Hopkins commented.
The Darlington School Board met on Tuesday, July 12, and were scheduled to act on his resignation. Once accepted, the school will post the opening and work to fill it before the school year begins.
“This decision was weighing on me for awhile, but I made it now to give the school plenty of time to get things in place,” said Hopkins. “I wouldn’t be stepping down if we didn’t have a good staff in place. I think any transition will go smooth.”