Dennis Poppe has some extra incentive to make sure the 2013 College World Series runs like a fine-tuned watch.
“I want to make sure my last World Series,” Poppe said, “is the best one.”
After overseeing the event for the NCAA since 1987, Poppe will retire Jan. 1, 2014, after 40 years with the organization. Poppe, who turns 65 in May, is currently the NCAA's vice president for championships and alliances.
Damani Leech, who has been Poppe's top lieutenant, will take over Poppe's duties July 1. Poppe plans to stay with the NCAA as either a consultant or a part-time employee after his official retirement date.
Poppe joined the NCAA in 1973 as an assistant director of events. His duties have included running just about every kind of championship event the NCAA conducts, and he also has been the NCAA's lead administrator for the Football Championship Subdivision since 1987.
He is best known around these parts as the guy who runs the CWS. The Division I championship baseball tournament experienced significant growth on his watch, with attendance more than doubling since he took over.
He was a key figure in the event's move from Rosenblatt Stadium to TD Ameritrade Park in 2011 and was instrumental in securing a 25-year contract that will keep the CWS in Omaha through at least 2036.
Poppe credits the partnership the NCAA has established with the City of Omaha and the local sponsoring group, College World Series of Omaha, Inc., for getting the latter deal done.
“The time I spent in Omaha made me realize how important the event is to the city,” Poppe said. “My time there allowed me the opportunity to work with a lot of people that stepped up and did the things necessary to keep the World Series in Omaha.
“Many of them have been leaders of the community. We've worked together to make sure that an event that means so much to the city will stay there.”
While the CWS was an important part of Poppe's professional life, the event also means a great deal to him personally. His four children grew up spending Junes in Omaha at Rosenblatt.
He recalled a conversation he had last fall with daughter Lisa.
“She asked me if I was thinking about retiring,” Poppe said. “At the time, I didn't, and I told her that. She said, 'Good, because I want to bring my baby to Omaha before you do.' ”
Lisa will give birth to Poppe's fifth grandchild in May. In June, they'll be at TD Ameritrade.
Poppe said retirement will allow him to spend more time with his children and grandchildren. He and wife Donna plan to do some traveling.
“I have some bucket list items that I want to take care of,” he said.
Poppe, an Illinois native, attended college at Missouri, where he played football and earned All-Big Eight honors as a senior in 1969. After graduation, he took a job in the school's athletic department before moving to the NCAA.
Since leaving home for Missouri, Poppe's life has been tied to collegiate athletics in one way or another. Poppe recalled a conversation he had with his father before his death in 1994.
Poppe's father had to quit school in the eighth grade after his mother passed away to help work on the farm. Poppe said his father never quite understood why a school like Missouri would give his son a scholarship to play sports.
“One day we were talking, and he said, 'Dennis, people ask me what you do and I'm not quite sure what it is you do?' ” Poppe said.
He went on to explain he worked in athletics and that he went around to sporting events to run them for the NCAA.
“He looked at me and said, 'Dennis, you've been on scholarship your whole life,' ” said Poppe, laughing. “And he was right. I got to do something I loved doing and I got paid to do it.
“I guess I'm finally coming off scholarship. As I get closer to retirement, I'll probably get more introspective about it. All I can say is that it's been one great run.”
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