Prior to Sunday's Southern Conference championship game against Wofford, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball coach Shawn Poppie sat on his team's bench alongside his seven-year old son Kai. On one of the front rows of the stands, wife Regina — now 39 weeks pregnant — sat with two-year old Cayden, who prior to tipoff made it a point to walk over to the bench and give Shawn a kiss.
"I get emotional seeing them out there together, setting that example," Regina said Sunday afternoon. "I posted on Instagram a while back that, we talk a lot about female coaches both being a mom and being a coach and I think sometimes you don't give dads enough credit. Fathers out there coaching and still being dads and traveling with their kids. Shawn has taken our kids recruiting before, because it's still family and they're still part of it too, so to see them together is really special because it just goes to show what type of daddy and what type of role model he's going to be for our kids."
Poppie had noted the day he was introduced as head coach that Kenny Brooks, head women's coach at Virginia Tech, Poppie's former employer, had taught him a lot about having a "work-life balance."
The road to becoming UTC's head coach in April of 2022 had been a long one, but it had been a journey the family took together.
It also made the moment that much more special as her husband was walking around the Harrah's Cherokee Center with the net around his neck after the Mocs (20-12) ended a six-year drought between titles with a 63-53 win over the Terriers Sunday.
Regina was in the back of Shawn's postgame press conference after the title game victory, and a question was asked about this new journey with the child that's expected to come any day now (the parents don't know the sex). The head coach, who wears his heart on his sleeve and coaches with that same passion, got visibly emotional talking about the ride.
"Oh man. Sometimes we all look at each other and we're so into basketball, but there's a lot of life still going on outside," Poppie said. "But what my wife has done for our family, for us to get here, she's an unbelievable mother and we talked about it when we found out we were pregnant. When the due date came, I said, 'What a story that would be.' Cut the nets down and a couple days later figure out that we're going to have another child and here we are, so I love her to death. My family back there has been my rock, and they're part of this. Kai has been with us, kind of our good-luck charm.
"So I'm glad she held that baby, and so for us to celebrate, we'll be back in Chattanooga and see what we can have here in the next couple of days."
For obvious reasons, it appears unlikely that Regina will be on hand when the Mocs play in the NCAA tournament next week. But to see Poppie round a team into his vision in the first year and to take a team picked to finish fifth in the preseason to a championship has made every step of the journey to this point that much more enjoyable.
"He always talked about staying the course, how he wanted to build that culture and eventually how it'll pay off, and they can go out and win a championship," Regina said. "For him to do it in year one is just a testament to his belief and his coaching style and working with his staff and the players and just continuing to believe in them. That allowed them to do what they did on the court this whole weekend, so it means a lot to our family. We're so proud of him; we support him through and through, and it's family.
"He preaches family to his team, and he lives it every single day."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org.