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Published: Sunday, 4/17/2011

Craig M. Copeland, 1950-2011: Sports enthusiast taught youth what he loved

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Craig M. Copeland, a physical education teacher in the Toledo Public Schools whose pastime was officiating and coaching, died Wednesday in Hospice of Northwest Ohio, South Detroit Avenue. He was 61.

He learned he had kidney cancer in July, 2003, and a kidney was removed, his wife, LaVern, said. Several years later, cancer reappeared and spread to his lung. He retired from the school system in 2006.

Whatever his health, there was a constant in his morning routine over the last 15 years.

"He delivered The Blade safely through the snow, the rain, the sleet, and mud until a month ago, when he couldn't walk anymore," his wife said.

Over a 33-year Toledo school district career, he taught physical education at such elementary schools as Old Orchard, Mayfair and East Side Central. He retired from the Old West End Academy.

He dressed up for holidays, particularly Halloween -- and usually with a scary mask.

"He just loved children, and he loved sports," his wife said.

If teaching children sports and activities was his vocation, "sports was his pastime," his wife said. "He lived and breathed sports."

Starting in the 1980s, he was a high school baseball umpire at games around northwest Ohio. He became a basketball referee, mostly working boys' varsity City League games.

He was junior varsity girls' basketball coach at Scott High School and an assistant for the girls' varsity team when he succeeded Steve Cole as head girls' coach, starting with the 1987-88 season.

"He did a lot for the community and for the sport," said Mr. Cole, who retired in 1997 from teaching at Scott. "He had a very good rapport with the players. He picked up fans running the program."

Ben Williams, the legendary Scott boys basketball coach, said, "He was a high-quality young man and very professional and seemed really to care about the students."

For seven seasons in the 1990s, he was an assistant coach of the girls' basketball team at Rosary Cathedral School. The team won CYO league championships and was undefeated for three seasons.

"I was the hothead, and he was the mild-mannered guy," said Melvin Minnfield, the former head coach and school athletic director who is now a Toledo firefighter.

"He was a great guy and a great competitor," said Mr. Minnfield, who went to Woodward High School with Mr. Copeland. "He had already coached at the high school level. He brought a lot of calmness and a lot of ideas to me."

At home, "He had ESPN on all the time," his wife said.

He was born Feb. 2, 1950, in Toledo and was a graduate of Woodward. He attended the University of Toledo but transferred to Ohio University, from which he received a bachelor's degree.

Surviving are his wife, LaVern; sons, Shaun Tucker and Dorion Copeland; daughter, Shelisha Johnson; mother, Yvonne Mason; brothers, Fred, Henry, and Phillip King, Steve and Solomon Copeland, and Christopher Mason; sisters, Patricia Lightner, Anita White, Susan Bowman, Faith Copeland, and Sharon Lee, and six grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday in Friendly Missionary Baptist Church, where he was a member, with rites by the Alpha Xi Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha at 7 p.m. in the church. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday in Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, where family hour will begin at 10 a.m.

Arrangements are by the C. Brown Funeral Home.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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