It would be safe to say Dr. Jim Copenhaver is Coupeville’s Dr. Soccer.
And while his touch has been felt greatest in Central Whidbey, his reach has covered the entire island.
Unfortunately for Whidbey Island, the Copenhaver family is moving to the East Coast this month to be closer to family.
Dr. Copenhaver’s love for soccer began as a child in south Seattle in the 1970s during the exciting first years of the Seattle Sounders. He played for a select BU-13 team that won the state title in 1974 and went on to play varsity soccer at Enumclaw High School and was MVP and captain his junior and senior years. He went to the University of Washington on an academic scholarship to pursue a career in medicine. In 2002, and after 22 years, he jumped back into the game, playing in island’s 40-and-over league.
Dr. Copenhaver’s son, Jeremy, then 5, began playing soccer in Coupeville in 2001. Dr. Copenhaver was concerned that the parents and coaches were focused more on winning than the kids simply enjoying and learning the game, so he started coaching his son’s teams in 2003. He began attending Central Whidbey Soccer Club meetings (Central Whidbey Youth Athletic Association in those days) and joined the board in 2004.
At that time Coupeville kids played against only each other and did not travel to other communities.
Dr. Copenhaver said, “Consequently by age 10 most players in Coupeville gave up soccer and moved on to other sports. They simply got tired of playing the same old kids on the same field.”
As a result, Dr. Copenhaver created boys and girls teams that played exhibition games against teams from Oak Harbor and South Whidbey.
“The players from all three communities loved it,” Dr. Copenhaver said. “They wanted to play each other every weekend.”
He then joined the Whidbey Island Youth Soccer Association, one of about 50 state associations to help develop local soccer play for young players.
“In that forum I advocated for the creation of a local youth soccer league on Whidbey Island which had never been tried. In the spring of 2006 about 150 kids from South Whidbey and Central Whidbey agreed to form teams and play with and against each other.”
It was a hit and has been running ever since.
Dr. Copenhaver has been league commissioner since its inception.
Over the past 10 years, Copenhaver has coached over 40 Whidbey Island teams of all skill levels from U-7 to U-19.
“The greatest part about teaching kids soccer is seeing and feeling the excitement they feel when they do something new and special for the first time,” he said. “The most difficult part of leaving is to not have the opportunity to continue to guide young players along that very exciting developmental pathway which brings great excitement at every new level. Youth soccer has never been about winning games for me. I love the beauty of the play, and when you learn to play it right, it is as beautiful to watch as it is to play.”
Parent Patrick Kelley said, “Coach Jim has worked with my son since Matthew started in soccer (six years ago). Over the past three seasons he has been Matthew's head coach. To say my son adores him is an understatement. I could not have asked for a better soccer coach. When your kid tells you that he loves Coach Jim, you know the man is doing a wonderful job.”
Dr. Copenhaver said after he leaves he hopes island youth soccer continues to be “more about the freedom to create the beauty of the game and less, much less, about the need to get a win.”
Dr. Copenhaver came to Coupeville in 1998 and split his time between family and emergency medicine.
His wife’s entire family is in the Boston area, and the Copenhavers will be moving to Wolfeboro, N.H., which, he said, “is a recreational-based town of about 5,000 right in the middle of the state and right on the northeast edge of Lake Winnepsacci.” Dr. Copenhaver accepted an emergency medicine position at Huggin’s Hospital.
Jeremy Copenhaver recently completed his sophomore soccer season at Coupeville High School and will now attend Brewster Academy, which is, according to his father, “one of those traditional New England college prep boarding schools where students come from around the country.”
Leaving Coupeville and his friends and teachers will be tough on Jeremy, Dr. Copenhaver said. “He has always impressed me with his positive attitude, so I think he will be able to make the most of this opportunity.”
In closing, Dr. Copenhaver said, “I would like to thank the many, many families that have volunteered over the years to help give kids the chance to play organized sports. I have been just one of a team of volunteers that enjoy creating interesting physical activities to get kids outside and having fun. Kids and parents do not have the ability to create these group activities on their own, so it feels good to work as a team and see a 100 kids all chasing soccer balls and having fun.“
Coupeville’s Dr. Soccer is also Whidbey Island’s Dr. Soccer. He leaves behind a legacy of love for the game and the kids who play it.
Below, Dr. Jim Copenhaver is flanked by the Coupeville soccer community. (Patrick Kelley photo)