Everyone who puts on a uniform and steps onto a court or a field aspires to win.
That’s why the games are played.
It’s the same at every level from the dusty fields of the Pop Warner Leagues to the manicured turfs of the National Football League.
Whitehall graduate Dan Koppen knows about those fields. He won pro football’s ultimate prize: A Super Bowl. In fact, he won two of them as a member of the New England Patriots.
Koppen arrived at Whitehall as part of a year-long NFL celebration honoring every high school in the world that has produced a player or coach who appeared in a Super Bowl.
He came bearing a gold football which he handed to Whitehall High School Principal Christopher A. Schiffert before Tuesday’s varsity basketball game against Parkland.
It’s all a part of the NFL’s “On the Fifty” campaign, which kicked off at last April’s draft and includes a number of activities surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl.
According to an NFL press release, the Super Bowl High School Honor Roll will recognize high schools and communities that have contributed to Super Bowl history by presenting them with commemorative Wilson-produced golden footballs for every player or head coach who has appeared in a Super Bowl and will become an annual tradition.
Koppen, who graduated in 1998, still carries the work ethic and values instilled in him as a Whitehall athlete. He has fond memories as a student-athlete at Whitehall and attributes what he learned under the guidance of head football coach Tony Cocca, among many others, for much of his success.
When he addressed the crowd, he said that it was always good to come home, and that wherever he went, from the amateur ranks to the professional arena, he wanted to be “treated as a kid from Whitehall,” no matter the stage. That’s how he looked at himself.
He also said that it’s important to work toward your goals and not be dissuaded by anything anyone else says.
“You don’t have to be the strongest, you just have to be the one who works the hardest,” said Koppen.
He also said it was important to experience many different scholastic sports so you can widen your horizons.
“Enjoy it now,” he said. “Play as much as you can. This is high school and have as much fun as you can and don’t worry about getting stonewalled into one sport. Just enjoy the whole experience.”
Koppen said that the coaching staff at Whitehall taught him a lot about football, including the techniques that helped him in his career.
“But more importantly, this town, and this coaching staff, teaches you hard work,” said Koppen. “It’s a tough place and you have to work for everything you want to get out of life.”
Koppen was prepared for the rigors of college and pro football through the competition he found weekly within the East Penn Conference.
“I thought the competition and the level of play in the eastern part of the state, and really the whole state in general, was really good,” said Koppen. “It prepares you for the next level.”
Koppen shares a connection with former graduate Matt Millen as both players won multiple Super Bowl rings, making Whitehall one of the rare schools to produce two players who received commemorative golden footballs.
“The football program has always been strong in my book,” said Koppen. “The kids care about it. They care about playing for the guy next to them. They care about playing for the coach. And they care about playing for the town.”
Koppen still makes time to visit his alma mater. His number was retired in 2005, and he’s also coaching now as well, working as a volunteer assistant at Bishop Hendricken High School in Rhode Island. Koppen also works for Comcast New England as an in-studio analyst.
But no matter where he goes, he remembers his football roots.
“This is where it all started,” said Koppen. “I’m grateful for this place.”