The College World Series title for UCLA Tuesday night was its first. But for Dennis Poppe it was his last championship. From his NCAA office, Poppe has traveled to Omaha for the last 26 years as the supervisor of the event. He’s retiring at the end of this year after 40 years with the NCAA. But Poppe’s decision to step aside isn’t the only major behind-the-scenes change the last two years.
In the history of the College World Series, nothing compared to coming to grips with the sounds around Rosenblatt Stadium and inside as part of the past.
As the NCAA vice-president for championships, Dennis Poppe was at the epicenter of the transition, something he took very seriously.
“It was an iconic stadium similar to Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field. But we got to a point where we knew the future of the Series would require a more modern stadium if you will for the amenities, the playability for the players and we were somewhat landlocked down there.”
This is the third year of the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park, while redevelopment around the new ballpark continues.
Poppe learned about the importance of the College World Series in Omaha from Lou Spry, who began as the media coordinator and later ran the event. Poppe remembers Spry’s pointers.
“Just listen. You’re not going to come in and talk policy and procedure. You’re going to come in and develop relationships and you’ll work it out. So it was a little more folksy approach to it, which fit my background. He set the stage for me, I guess.”
And Spry praises Poppe for his work on that stage.
“Poppe has done just amazing things for the tournament. He has negotiated from the NCAA standpoint the best contract that we have with any sponsoring agency in any sport. Now that’s an achievement.”
In conjunction with the construction of the new College World Series venue, Poppe negotiated a 25-year contract to keep the area’s premier annual sporting event in place through at least 2036, which according to Spry gives Poppe high marks in Omaha. “They love him. He could run for mayor of this town. Dennis has just a nice touch with people.”
Though Spry no longer supervised the event, he continued to work it as the official scorer. Health reasons prevented him from traveling to Omaha this year for only the second time since 1966, though he decided after last year’s College World Series to give up scoring. Long-time Omaha resident, 90-year old Jack Payne, the former P.A. voice at Rosenblatt, says Poppe and Spry stood out during their time in Omaha.
“Two people that you just not want to see bow out of the picture because of their professionalism and their dedication to the game of college baseball, and people that I think were smart enough and had the ability to handle their positions and handle decisions.”
The new official scorer is Shamus McKnight, who works in media relations at the University of Nebraska. Taking over for Dennis Poppe is Damani Leech, who has worked as Poppe’s right-hand man at the College World Series for the last ten years.