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New St. Helens boys soccer coach plans to stick around

Opperman, a St. Helens resident of 14 years, will "stay here as long as they want me."


Photo Credit: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Bob Opperman, the new boys soccer coach at St. Helens High School, looks on as the team scrimmages during practice this week.Nearly 50 years after graduating from St. Helens High School, Bob Opperman is in a position he never imagined himself to hold: he's just been hired as his alma mater's new boys' soccer coach, and in 1967 when Opperman donned a cap and gown, the program didn't even exist.

“When I was little, it was football. There wasn't even soccer. Nobody had soccer teams. There wasn't even rec-(league) soccer,” said Opperman, who will turn 66 in January.

Instead, his exposure came through his children. The oldest of his four kids began playing soccer as a youngster and the rest followed over the years, making for a soccer-filled experience throughout his life.

After a stint in the construction industry that moved him about the region, Opperman moved back to the Portland area, got married and moved to Gresham, where he and his wife Pam lived for the next 25 years to raise their children. It wasn't long before he got the call to help out with the youth teams his young charges were playing on, kicking off a long and varied career as a soccer coach at the youth, classic, premiere and high school levels.

“Most of us older coaches, and I count myself as being older, started with our first son or daughter in Rec. My son's 43, and he was U-6 when I first started,” he said. “It was the whole youth (soccer) deal: 'you want your son to play, you're the coach. We'll give you some names for a team.'”

Opperman had a hand in starting a club in eastern Multnomah County, and was eventually invited to coach a team in Oregon City as part of the now defunct Three Rivers club. There, the team went to three consecutive state championships, taking the first of three meetings with FC Portland.

A few years later he was asked to take a position as the varsity assistant at La Salle before retiring and moving out to the St. Helens area in 2000.

“(The kids) were gone, and I said 'let's go up to St. Helens and look around for a bit.' We came up here and found a nice house, and my wife thought it was a nice little town,” said Opperman. “Then, when she got up here, within a year, she said 'I love this, you can get around this town in 10 minutes and get all your shopping done and be home.' It took her not even a year, and she was like, 'I like this.'”

The Oppermans had found a home, a place in which they intend to stay. Bob Opperman said he has continued to stay closely in touch with the soccer community, getting out to as many Portland Timber matches as possible, and keeping up with his many coaching contacts around the Portland area.

As far as his playing career is concerned, Opperman never stepped on the pitch as an athlete until a group of club coaches formed a team to take on the nearby Parkrose club. Several of the other clubs had some high quality talent and Opperman's team wasn't the most successful, but getting the chance to finally play made him wish things had been different during his formative high school years.

“With football, and my size: you can see I'm heavy, but not very big,” Opperman said, looking ruefully at his stomach. “I had decent pace for where I was; I was pretty fast at times. And I tell you, I wish they had soccer. I would have been a good fit for soccer, but they didn't have it.”

Even the limited experience has helped Opperman to round out his knowledge of the game, which is bolstered by many years of watching players, watching teams and watching coaches. Opperman even got the chance to see Garrett Smith, who now coaches the women's team at the University of Portland, coach his daughter for a year in Oregon City.

“You're it.”

Those years of study gave Opperman not only an understanding of soccer, but a vast network of coaches and players who might be interested in an open position – which is exactly what was offered up after Oscar Monteblanco left with the conclusion of the 2013 season.

Through the grapevine, Opperman was asked to help girls' coach Simon Date and St. Helens Athletics Director Matt Morgan in the search, calling everyone from former cohorts from his Oregon City days to old friend Monty Hawkins, the current boys' coach at Sherwood High School. His task was to “find a coach for these guys, one that's going to stay.”

The problem was, nobody bit.

“I can't remember one of them calling me back,” said Opperman, who had been searching for quite some time before “I don't know if (Hawkins) talked to (Morgan) or he talked to somebody else, but he said “I told him I'd found a good coach, and he's out in that area.” I said 'yeah?' And he said 'it's you.'”

Opperman had to wade through the interview process, but eventually got the call from Morgan: “You're it. Let's get going.”

And with all the formalities out of the way, he stepped into a tough position: add consistency to a program reeling from countless coaching changes and reinvigorate boys' soccer in St. Helens.

“At the end of the season that the boys enjoyed the season, that they learned something, they understand the game better, they want to play the game still, they're not frustrated – none of 'I don't want to do it anymore, I'm tired of it.' That would be success for me,” said Opperman, who didn't set a win total, but emphasized the importance of triumph for boys who hadn't seen a winning score in two seasons. Getting to coach a team to love the game and instilling a hunger for victory seems to be all that matters to Opperman, who is settled in St. Helens and intends to keep things that way.

“We've been here going on 14 years, and we're gonna stay here. That's what they need here right now,” Opperman said. “I will stay here as long as they want me.”