The bus carrying the Wilmington High School swim team sat at a railroad crossing near Trenton.
Time was ticking as the Hurricane swimmers needed to be at Miami University for the FAVC Swimming and Diving Championship meet.
The bus, though, would not cross the tracks until the train passed, and it was clearly stopped at this point, or clearance was given by the train engineer.
“The train had its lights on but it was such a close distance (to the crossing) the bus driver wouldn’t cross,” WHS swim coach Mitch Hopf recalled. “I’m not sure what the rule says, but our driver would not cross the tracks.”
So on this cold, Saturday morning, Hopf exited the bus and began running.
“Luckily this happened before the era of TikTok or Snapchat,” he said.
A swimmer during his days at Celina High School and Wilmington College, Hopf never had to negotiate railroad ties as part of his conditioning.
But rocky footing or not, Hopf ran down the tracks and asked the engineer if the bus could pass.
“He looked at me funny and said, ‘Yes, what have you been waiting for?’”
The Hurricane made it to the meet, but Hopf figures “we rolled in at the last minute before warmups.”
For now, though, there’ll be no more train track treks for Hopf. He has decided to step down as the Wilmington High School swim coach, a decision that was not easy, but had to be done for everyone involved.
“As my kids, ages 7, 5 and 11 months, get older and more involved in extracurriculars, I find myself unable to dedicate the time to the high school swim program which it deserves,” he said. “This has been a very difficult decision to step down as I’ve overseen this program for the past 17 years, but I’m looking forward to watching and cheering for my daughters as they start their swimming careers at Countryside YMCA.”
Hopf won’t call it retirement. He said he may return to coaching one day.
For now, though, he’ll be able to look back on the memories of nearly two decades as the Hurricane swim coach. Sometimes he’ll laugh, other times he’ll just shake his head in wonder. In the end, he had a great run.
“I’ve been blessed with amazing swim coaches during my childhood and early adulthood who molded me into who I am today,” said Hopf. “My goal going into coaching was to impact the lives of swimmers, and students, in a positive way. Encouraging and pushing individuals to be there best self in and out of the pool.”
The coaches he’s worked with are Lisa Bowers, Sarah Scott, Jerry Florea, Kerry Lewis, Betany Yeakley, Carissa Macella, Sam Osborn, Kacie Jenkins, Rich Garnai, Paul Moke and Trip Breen.
Aside from the 17 state qualifiers he coached, including four-time state champion Josh Quallen, Elliot Conti, Rachael Lewis, Maddie Law, Caitlin Clifton, Heidi Florea, Adam Lewis, Ryan Macella, Austin Carey, Tyler Law, Maddie Schaffer, Jordie Quallen, Alyssa Lewis, Brianna Gilbert, Ali Dooley, Ricky Dungan and Jordan Davis, Hopf said his memories of WHS swimming will be many.
“Wonderful parents who hosted team dinners before sectionals where hair coloring and crazy hair cuts took place,” said Hopf, who led the WHS girls to league titles in 2015, 2016, 2017. “Surprise baby shower thrown by the team before we had our first child.
“Working with spectacular coaches in and around the high school program. Senior swimmer antics … play on words for their senior T-shirts; dressing as me before the senior night meet; Luke and Aidan things. Leg hair growing competitions. Having representatives from the US Navy run a dryland and swim workout. Annual team breakfast on New Year’s Eve following a grueling 6 a.m. practice.
“I could keep going, but the most important memory and one that will live with me is being a part of the lives of some of the best people to walk the halls of Wilmington City Schools who all are continuing to do great things today.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @wnjsports