Along with entertaining and educating, popular shows like “Swamp People” on the History Channel and A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” have a strong underlying storyline — the importance of family.
Both programs show fathers (and sometimes mothers) handing down knowledge they learned from their fathers in hopes their children will be able to carry on family traditions. These families bond while hunting alligators and ducks, as well as running businesses, the latter of which is a multi-million dollar international company.
While not as extreme as putting their lives in danger wrestling a 13-foot reptile, local families have bonded on the athletic fields of Bradley County for decades.
Families like the four generations of Elmores, the four Johnson brothers, the Hoopers, Pippengers, Dockerys, Ownbys, Fitzgeralds, Hickeys, Davises, Adams, Montgomerys, Fraziers, Gerens, Caldwells, Scotts, Ensleys, Hares and the Hannah/Jacksons are just a few of a long list of local successful sports siblings and families.
Among the elite names of local athletic family heritages, one current set of fourth-generational siblings are striving to continue the success that is synonymous with their family name — Copeland.
While Bryce and Brooke became the first brother-sister combo in Tennessee to be named All-State in the same season a couple of months ago, and younger brother Cole is a 6-foot-2 incoming two-sport freshman at Bradley Central, the Copeland’s success can be traced back to their great-grandparents and has been passed down by their grandfather Kent, who still works with them to improve their games.
“”My dad (Joe Walter Copeland) played basketball for a championship Alpine (Tenn.) High School team. Mom (Mazie) also played at Alpine, plus I had an aunt and two uncles who went to Tennessee Tech on basketball scholarships,” explained Kent Copeland, who was a four-year starter at Livingston Academy before attending TTU himself. “I didn’t play for the Tech team, but I’d play against three of the starters all the time in pick-up games and could hold my own with them.”
“When I played (at Livingston Academy), there was only one (TSSAA) classification. We lost to Murfreesboro in the state quarterfinals and they went on to lose to Oak Ridge by a point in the state championship game,” he related.
After coaching five teams and being the athletic director for a few years at Monterey High School, Kent moved to Cleveland in 1972 to take a sales job with Ralston Purina. “I played some adult league ball with guys like Ed Coates and Dennis Botts until I couldn’t play anymore.”
Kent and former wife Janie had a trio of sons — Brian, Chad and Brent — who all excelled in Bradley basketball and football uniforms, earning scholarships to play collegiately. Chad played basketball at Florida State and Tennessee-Chattanooga, earning Southern Conference Player of the Year his senior season. Brian and Brent both were quarterbacks, and played for Tennessee Tech and UTC respectively.
“We had a full size basketball court in our backyard and we’d play to sometimes 1 or 2 in the morning,” related Kent. “Our boys didn’t play video games. We actually got out and played the games.”
“Dad grew up on a farm and his dad wasn’t able to be as involved in his sports, but he wanted it to be different for us,” remarked Brian.
“Because we were poor, my parents didn’t get to come to my games,” Kent said. “My mom only got to see me play once. I didn’t want that for my kids.”
“He (Kent) never missed a game,” added Brent. “He taped our games from the sixth grade on and we’d watch them to see what we could improve on.”
“Him loving sports kept the fire strong in us,” related Chad. “He was always willing to stay late with us after practice to work with us on the side to make us a better player.”
“Dad never criticized or tried to undermine our coaches,” Brian commented. “The things he would work with us on would help support what the coaches were trying to do.”
One of Kent’s favorite coaching tools is the Steve Alford Shooting Drills, which he used to instruct his sons and now works on with his grandchildren. “It’s basically shooting 10 lay ups, 10 free throws, 10 short range shots, 10 from a little further out and so on as quickly as you can,” Brian related. “Dad would stand under the goal and rebound for you, plus he’d chart how many you make at each station.”
“Sports isn’t always about physical size, but about heart and desire,” Kent stated. “It’s about putting in the extra time and effort, plus believing that you can do it.”
“Dad taught us you don’t have to be talented to play hard,” Brian expressed. “He built self confidence in us and gave us things we want to pass on to our children. Whether in sports or a job, hard work builds character. Dad taught us to be positive, encouraging and supportive of our kids.”
“There is seven years between Chad and I, so when I got to junior high, I not only had dad working with me, but the benefit of Brian and Chad (who are only 18 months apart) working with me as well,” expressed Brent, who once threw for six touchdowns and scored two himself in a seven-overtime playoff game against Farragut. The next season he set a single-game state record with 524 passing yards and seven TDs against Cookeville.
Following in their dad’s example, the three Copeland brothers are passing on the family sports tradition to their children.
Brian and wife Kim (Collins), who was an All-State basketball player for legendary coach Katherine Neely as well as a volleyball standout at East Ridge, encourage and support Bryce, Brooke and Cole.
A 6-foot guard, Bryce is to play for NCAA Division II Lee University after just completing his high school career with 1,689 points, placing him eighth on the all-time Bear scoring list. On the gridiron, the southpaw quarterback had one of the most prolific offensive career in Bradley history, posting 8,204 total yards and accounting for 85 touchdowns, both numbers are likely school records.
Brooke, an an All-State performer on the volleyball court with an opportunity to play for a USA 18-under volleyball team in Australia next month, already has three SEC offers among her many scholarship options. The 6-foot-2 versatile athlete has already netted 1,569 points, placing her 13th on the all-time Bearette list. This past season she averaged a double-double with 19.6 points and 10.1 rebounds an outing, plus she blocked 58 shots to earn the District 5-AAA Player of the Year award.
A standout on the middle school level the last few years, Cole just completed his first basketball camp under legendary coach Kent Smith and expects to follow in his dad and older brother’s footsteps on both the gridiron and hardwood.
“We are proud of our kids no matter what they do, but the fact they enjoy playing sports like we did draws us closer as a family,” Brian commented.
Fourth on the all-time Bear list with 1,939 points, Chad and his wife Kimberly live in Chattanooga and have a pair of future standouts in 11-year-old daughter Faith, whom Chad coached in basketball at St. Peter’s Episcopal School last season plus 4-year-old Caleb, who started playing hoops this past winter. Faith is entering her first year at Girls Preparatory School this fall and also plays volleyball.
“It’s very enjoyable to work with your kids,” Chad stated. “Seeing them get better is very satisfying.”
Brent also has two children, daughter Mackenzie, 9, and son Kadyn, 8. “My son plays basketball at North Lee Elementary, while my daughter is a cheerleader,” he related.
“Sports is a common bond in our family,” Chad assessed. “What dad did working with us made us not only better players, but better men as well. We want to pass those values on to our children.”
“My high school coach (Derwood Vaughn) just past away and all of the starters from my team came in for the funeral,” explained Kent. “”It’s those kind of relationships you build through sports and to be able to have that with your family makes you that much closer.”
“Having athletics in common gave us a type of relationship we wouldn’t have had otherwise. It’s priceless,” declared Brian. “Sports can make a family closer if done properly.”
“Relationships with teammates, coaches, fans and your family that is what matters the most,” he added. “What we carry with us in the form of memories the rest of our life, long after getting your name in the paper or mentioned on the radio. The athlete that gets that or more importantly the parent that gets are the most successful.”