SELLERSBURG, Ind. — When Scott Schoen took over as the head girls basketball coach at Silver Creek High School, he remembers walking into the gym and seeing an old man sitting in a chair.
"I went home and told my wife, 'I don't know whether I need to kick him out or not,'" Schoen said with a laugh. "And she said, 'Scott, just be patient.'"
What he discovered was that he was not just a right-hand man, but a program pillar.
"He's as much a part of Silver Creek as the dragon mascot," Schoen said.
That was Charlie Popp, who played on the first Silver Creek boys basketball team to win sectionals in 1955. After that, Popp became very involved in the community as a coach, helping with the youth and AAU programs as well as serving as a longtime assistant for the high school girls team.
He passed away on April 16, 2020, from what Schoen described as a "stomach illness."
"I learned patience," Schoen said of his time with Popp. "We have what we always called Poppisms: 'Bend your knees, it makes you 10% better,' just different things that he would say."
"If there was somebody who was coming up in the program that had not experienced the fundamentals of basketball, he would teach them how to shoot layups, how to shoot free throws, how to play defense," Silver Creek senior Emme Rooney said. "So you could tell he was really an old-school type of guy. And he really just wanted to teach the fundamentals of the game."
"But probably the most important thing I learned from him is just the love for Silver Creek," Schoen said. "And it's a reminder every day of Charlie Popp because Charlie was a selfless individual."
Silver Creek won its first state title in girls basketball last season and is in the 3A championship game again this year. The Lady Dragons won that first title almost a year after Popp's death.
"We would go visit him in the hospital as much as we possibly could," Rooney said. "But he would watch the live streams of our games and every single time he had to figure out how to use the computer. We really wanted to make sure that he was still being a part of our program and having a sense of what we were doing."
"We would not be where we are right now without Charlie Popp," Schoen said.
That spirit has carried on this year, as it did last season, with his initials on their jerseys. In addition, Schoen keeps Popp's clipboard he always carried with him on the Silver Creek bench for games.
"Last year, he was right there with us," Schoen said. "And I was talking to his wife a couple of days ago, after we won the regional. And I said, 'I could feel Charlie in the gymnasium.' His spirit runs deep with this program and his spirit will always run deep with this program."
"We try and teach the younger kids who might not have experienced him as much as he got older exactly what Charlie would have wanted us to teach," Rooney said. "We try and lead in the name of him and in the name of all the other community members that have supported Silver Creek girls basketball for years. And he was just the epitome of a true fan and coach. He was a true lover of the game."
And as the Lady Dragons try to bring home another championship, Schoen wishes the heart of his program could just pop back in the gym one more time.
"Every time I come in the gym, I wish he would be sitting in that chair again," Schoen said.