Sports as life

Phillip Brents

Fri April 25, 2014 12:27pm

On any given day during Eastlake High School’s annual sports calendar, the Koopman family can be found together on the cross-country course, basketball court or track and field oval.
David Koopman, the patriarch of the family, coaches cross-country, girls basketball and track while Francine, his wife, serves as a track coach. She also assists her husband in cross-country and basketball.
They have three children, including two who are currently attending EHS. Breyanna, a senior, competes in basketball and track while Jalen, a freshman, serves as a scorekeeper during the basketball and track seasons.
Jordan, a 2008 Titan grad, attended Butler University where he played football four years, collecting more than 1,300 yards as a wide receiver while helping the Bulldogs snare the first-ever FCS playoff berth by a Pioneer League team as a senior in 2011.
David and Francine, who were high school sweethearts at Hilltop High School, may be one of the few husband-wife coaching tandems in the Sweetwater Union High School District.
“I was just a regular guy in high school but she was the superstar,” quipped David, a 1988 HHS graduate who competed in basketball. Francine (nee Wada) graduated from the west side Chula Vista school in 1989 before going on to compete in track and field at Southwestern College and San Diego State University.
“I went out for track to meet a girl and I did, and I’m still with her 27 years later,” David explained. “And I’m coaching track because of a girl.” Understandably, the subject of coaching sports remains a hot topic in the Koopman household.
“We try not to talk about it but it’s hard not to talk about it,” David offered with a smile. “I mean, we both work at the school and we both coach at the school.”
“It’s pretty cool,” Jalen noted about the homefront sports banter from his parents. “You get used to it after a while.”
Breyanna is coached by her father during the basketball season and her mother during the track season. The EHS senior admits it’s been “interesting.”
“It’s either going to be a good day or a bad day,” she said. “When we get home, it’s either very quiet or everyone is laughing.”
“For most of the kids, after practice is over, they leave, but Breyanna has nowhere to hide,” David offered from the parent-coach perspective. “She gets it before school and after school.” David admits he’s harder on his daughter than other team members.
“She’s the coach’s kid,” he said. “I think as a parent you have more expectations for your own child.”
“I don’t like to admit it but it has helped me,” Breyanna said.
Breyanna got into track and field through the urging of her mother, a standout in the sprints at Hilltop and a 2005 inductee into Southwestern College’s Athletic Hall of Fame. Breyanna competes in the 4x100 relay, discus throw and 200-meter sprint at Eastlake.  Her favorite events are the 4x100 and 200 dash. “I like running around the curves,” she said.
Jalen can be found at the scoring table, usually parked in a safe spot in his wheelchair. He has a form of osteogenesis imperfecta, commonly known as brittle bone disease. The congenital bone disorder is characterized by brittle bones that are prone to fracture. People with the disorder are born with defective connective tissue, or without the ability to make it, usually because of a deficiency of Type-I collagen.
Eight types of OI can be distinguished. There is no cure and treatment is aimed at increasing overall bone strength to prevent fracture and maintain mobility. The incidence of OI is estimated to be one per 20,000 live births.
Though Jalen does not need to use the wheelchair for medical reasons -- he can walk as normally as anyone else -- the wheelchair is a necessity when it comes to being out in public around large groups of people.
“With 2,800 students at school, there’s always the chance that he could be bumped and fall down,” David Koopman said.
The wheelchair thus serves as a safety measure when navigating around school. Jalen sits at a desk while in class.
“When we get home, the wheelchair rarely makes it out of the car,” David noted.
However, the risk of falling is constant, even when in familiar surroundings at home.
“There could always be a wet spot in the bathroom,” Francine explained.
Jalen’s condition was discovered almost immediately after birth when he developed fractures in his legs. He’s had to live life on the safe side ever since.
It’s been difficult.
“He’s a regular kid and kids like to run around,” David said.
Francine admitted raising a special needs child has had its trying moments but she puts her faith in God, as does the rest of the family.
“It was hard at first as a family, but there’s a reason for this, and it’s made me stronger and more of an advocate,” she said.
David concurs with the same sentiment. “God has a plan for everyone,” he said. “We just aren’t always aware of the reason until some appointed time in our lives.”
The roughest time came in the second grade when Jalen fell and broke four bones simultaneously. His mother estimates he’s broken 60 bones during his lifetime – legs, arms, back, shoulders and fingers. He has undergone various surgeries and is scheduled for more in the future.
Despite dealing with the constant fear of falling – and breaking more bones -- Jalen hasn’t lived life in a bubble -- far from it. The family has a basketball court set up in the backyard of their Chula Vista home as well as a backyard pool. Jaylen likes to shoot baskets and also swim, sometimes for hours at a time. He has also played golf.
“I can’t do any sports because if I slip or fall, I could break my legs.” He said. “But at home I play basketball in the backyard, shooting free-throws, mainly. I just play until I get tired.”
Jalen said he’s very interested in joining the school’s swim team before he graduates. He is already proficient in the backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly.
He said he enjoys swimming because of “the feel of actually getting to do something.”
He’s also taken his wheelchair out for a spin on several occasions. “I’ve rolled miles,” he piped up. “I try to go as fast as I can to finish a mile in a certain time.”
“He can get that thing moving,” mother Francine noted with a smile. “I always tell him to wear a seatbelt in case he hits a rock.”
While Jalen takes interest in family sports, he does not let it absorb him completely. He enjoys drawing and reading, and also enjoys playing video games. In fact, he said he’d like to pursue a career as a 3D graphics designer.
He said video gaming has helped reduce the stress in his life. “Whenever I feel bad, I play video games and I feel better,” he said.
Jalen’s duties as a scorekeeper include taking down scores and making sure the scorebook is accurate. “I’ve done this for more than three years – I like doing it,” he said. “I like helping out my parents.”
Jalen also enjoys watching his older sister compete from his courtside seat.“It’s pretty cool – I really look up to her,” he said. “Seeing her out there, I like watching her compete. She’s really good.”
His sister calls him an inspiration.
“It makes me realize the things going on in my life aren’t nearly as bad,” she said.
Jalen said he is most thankful for the support he has received from family and friends.

“I’m grateful for all the friends and family I have who support me in everything I go through,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter how many friends you have; it’s the quality of friends you have that matters most.”