OTTAWA — Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder, and while Todd Hopkins leads what has been a winning baseball machine at Marquette Academy, he just can’t seem to please everyone.
“I have to say how inconsiderate he is,” joked Jon Leslie, a standout on Hopkins’ first three teams at MA and his varsity assistant for 10 years. “Had they not lost those few, I would have had the chance to see the 500th at Midland earlier in the week. That’s just rude.”
All kidding aside, Hopkins wins friends the same way he’s won ballgames, through strength, attention to detail and integrity. One would have to ask those closest to him, like Leslie, to confirm the former, but the numbers easily bear out the latter.
With the Crusaders’ 10-1 victory over Peoria Christian on Friday, Hopkins’ career record over his 20-plus seasons at MA since 1997-98 is 500-168. That includes 12 seasons of at least 25 wins, the first of those in his second at the Cru helm when he led them to fourth place at the IHSA 1A State Finals. An average season for his program is an amazing 24-8.
Those numbers put him a little short of the top 50 in IHSA history, a list led by the whopping 950 wins by Dave Swisegood at Plymouth (417-207) and Augusta Southeastern (533-393) from 1956 to 2015.
However, he’s in league with some pretty fast area company, including legendary Tri-County coaches Bob Newell of Henry-Senachwine (704 wins, 1956-2000), Roanoke-Benson’s Bill Zeman (693, 1979-2014), St. Bede’s John Bellino (625, 1980-2014) and his mentor and coach when he played at Putnam County, Ken Jenkins (554-381, 1975-2008).
Also, his winning percentage of .748 is believed to be the highest of any coach with at least 500 wins.
“When we met Hop, we’d never seen anything like him before, he was so passionate, but we could tell right from the get-go that he really knew the game,” said Jamie McConnaughhay, that first team's senior catcher. “He was tough. He’d let us goof around, but there was always a time and place for that. We enjoyed his demeanor and he was fun, and his first concern wasn’t winning. It was always the kids.”
“I don’t know that Hop then was all that different than he is today, only he was probably a lot less filtered then than now,” laughed Leslie, now the principal at Hartsburg-Emden. “He was extremely fiery, and as far as motivating players he was second to none. He has an uncanny knack to get people to follow him, to believe in what he does, to do whatever is best for the team, and that’s not easy these days. He’s the kind of coach that kids want to play for.
“He knows the game, but maybe his greatest attribute is he’s a great manager of the players he’s had. He’s great at putting people in the right situations to be successful.”