Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The man behind Northside boys basketball: Bill Pope

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) – If you’ve been to Northside High School, you’ve seen his name on the gym.

A living legend in the Roanoke community, Bill Pope has led the Northside boys basketball program to two state titles and more than 600 wins across almost four decades.

“I surely didn’t think that I would be in it this long or anything like that,” Pope said.

It all began in Mount Vernon, Virginia. Pope’s dad, Norm, loved basketball, and he taught Bill and his siblings the game.

“It was an instant with me,” he said. “I mean, really, from a very, very young age. I just wanted to go out and shoot, it didn’t matter if I had somebody else to shoot with or just myself.”

Growing up, Pope loved watching the pros play, especially the Philadelphia 76ers.

“We get into a rec game, and I do remember thinking the first game, it was either… it was around six points I scored, and my dad said that was really good. And I said six points… that’s terrible! I mean, these pros are scoring 30 and all that stuff. But you know for rec game, I just had no understanding that that was not bad,” Pope said.

Pope went on to play at Bridgewater College. While trying to figure out his future, he says he loved two things: history and basketball.

His first taste of coaching came from helping his brother’s high school team.

“That was a real big moment for me,” he said. “Because I went in there, and I just really, really loved it.”

So in 1980, Pope began his career at Northside as the JV boy’s coach.

“Well, that sounded like, you know, getting the head job at Duke or something. I mean, I was so excited about it, and just to have that kind of chance,” Pope said.

After a few seasons with the JV Vikings, Pope coached at Powhatan and Salem before coming back to Northside in 1986 as the varsity coach and a teacher.

While navigating the early years of his coaching career, Pope and his wife Patty were also raising their daughters Cassidy, Callie, Kelsey and Karlie.

“When they were little, they’d wave at daddy. When they got to about second or third grade, fourth grade, they became water girls and water boys, and then each one would teach the next one what to do.” Patty Pope said.

From playing under the bleachers at games as kids, to eventually taking their dad’s AP History and Government class, the Pope family has grown up as Vikings.

Now, with his daughters grown raising families of their own, the whole Pope bunch still makes its way back to Roanoke to watch and support Bill and his program.

“The support that they give me if that wasn’t there, we wouldn’t be talking here today,” he said. “That just wouldn’t happen, especially with my wife, Patty, just said every game is, you know, she likes to say she is my top assistant. You know, my mom and dad are still coming to games… there’s a huge, wide support system that I have around me that just allows me to do this.”

That support system also extends into the Roanoke community. In 2019, after Pope’s first state title, former Viking Jalen Jackson made him aware of a petition to name Northside’s gym after its most successful coach.

In December of that year, Pope’s impact was solidified into concrete – a legacy that extends now to his 12 grandchildren.

“Last year when we saw the bus off to the states, Lincoln and Karlie and Zach were there. And as Lincoln was running around, I was taking pictures with his name Bill Pope gymnasium, with a grandson running around playing in the grass. So, you know, it’s a personal thing and then it’s a proud thing for Billy and his legacy and all the hard work he’s put into it, and it’s an honor to the community, I hope,” Patty said.

Pope doesn’t like to get ahead of himself, taking it one day and one practice at a time, but he hopes his legacy as a Viking will be the passion he shared for his students, his players and for the game that started it all.

“I hope that, you know, people will be able to see that, you know, I enjoyed what I did, and that I’ve worked very hard at it. And that I cared deeply about it, and that I cared deeply about the people I worked with. That the game means a lot to me… I hope that people will see that kind of drive and passion that I tried to bring every day,” Pope said.

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