Local Schools

Iconic coach honored by the schools he served

Mark Huppe, decked out in his favorite Carolina blue, and family stand for the national anthem at a football game between Bishop Miege High School, Roeland Park, and St. James Academy, Lenexa, on Sept. 15. Huppe, who coached basketball at both schools, as well as St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, was honored before the game. Huppe, who has been battling throat cancer for two years, has been recognized by each school at several sporting events this year. COURTESY PHOTO

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Mark Huppe hasn’t said a word about being honored as a coach, educator and role model by three Johnson County Catholic high schools.

He can’t. Cancer has taken his voice.

However, a single gesture he made while he walked between two teams on the Bishop Miege High School football field said it all. He lifted up his right arm, pointed his index finger toward the heavens, and twirled it around.

All for God; I trust in God.

Everyone understood.

Mark Huppe points to the heavens and twirls his finger as he walks between the Bishop Miege and St. James Academy football teams on Sept. 15 at the game at which he was honored. COURTESY PHOTO

A tribute was read over the loudspeakers as he walked between the teams assembled on the field, and it ended with his oft-heard motto: “Let’s get with it today!”

Huppe has the unusual distinction of being the only person who has coached basketball at all three Johnson County Catholic schools, but so much more.

“He has had a huge impact on the lives of hundreds of people across generations,” said principal Maureen Engen of Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park.

In the beginning

Huppe, who began his educational career in 1977, was at Bishop Miege from 1983 to 1986, St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park from 1986 to 2003, and St. James Academy in Lenexa from 2009 to 2022, retiring his final year.

He served as principal of St. Ann School in Prairie Village from 2004 to 2009. Many people in Johnson County heard Huppe give sports commentary on cable channel Spectrum Sports for 10 years.

Others knew Mark and his wife Maureen Huppe as longtime parishioners of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park.

Huppe was diagnosed with throat cancer about two years ago. As word of his situation became known, the communities of Aquinas, Miege and St. James decided — quite independently of each other — to do something to show their appreciation for Huppe.

St. James Academy honored him at two separate events, said Shane Rapp, principal.

The first was a “Huppe Out” during the varsity basketball game Feb. 3 against Blue Valley North. All fans were asked to dress in Huppe’s favorite color, North Carolina Blue. A tribute was read before the game.

Then, on April 25, the school had a “Walk for Sir” during house time, “Sir” being Huppe’s nickname. He loved to take walks and listen to music, so it wasn’t unusual for the students to see him bouncing a bit as he walked. Students made two laps around the track while some of Huppe’s favorite tunes were blasted over the loudspeakers.

Aquinas, meanwhile, paid tribute to Huppe on Aug. 25 during the Aquinas-St. James soccer game at Aquinas.

And Miege honored the coach during soccer and volleyball games on Sept. 14, and then again during the Miege-St. James varsity football game on Sept. 15 at Miege.

Mark Huppe and his family gather together before a Bishop Miege High School soccer game. COURTESY PHOTO

Each time Huppe was honored, he was accompanied by Maureen (herself a noted, longtime archdiocesan educator), some of their seven children and some grandchildren as well. Other family support included his brother Joe Huppe, Miege’s varsity assistant soccer coach, and nephew Nate Huppe, Miege’s assistant athletic director and head soccer coach.

Engen, who also taught with Huppe at St. James, said he made a point of getting to know people’s names.

“He’s really humble,” she said. “He does a lot of pointing up in the air and wiggling his finger. When he could talk, he’d say one of two things to everyone he met, ‘Let’s get with it today’ or ‘We missed each other.’

“When he points up like that, he’ll tell you he really does trust Jesus. And he gives the glory to God.

“And he’s so authentic. He knows everyone’s name and doesn’t forget it. Part of his message was get out there and learn someone’s name.”

Always positive

Craig Moss, principal of Aquinas, met Huppe when he arrived in 1999 to teach math and coach football and track. Once, on the way to a professional development event at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kansas, Huppe drove the “new guy” Moss there, and drove him around to the important Catholic places.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been around someone so positive and believed we could do things if we set our minds to it in the way Mark is,” said Moss. “It had a huge effect on me as someone new to Kansas City, new to teaching in Catholic schools and new to the archdiocese. I began to see my job and vocation in life differently.”

Rapp said Huppe was an advocate for students who struggled.

“He also was a huge advocate for students who needed extra support, whether they were kids who made some mistakes in their past, came from tough family situations or had disabilities and who needed extra support,” said Rapp. “He was an advocate for them even to the point of having students live with him for various periods of time because of their family situations or something they were going through.

“He went to bat for kids who might be someone we weren’t excited to give a second or third chance to. He’d advocate for them and take personal responsibility for their success. There are multiple instances of kids who wouldn’t have graduated from high school or had a healthy, thriving life without Mark stepping in and helping them succeed.”

Greg Wilson taught Latin and coached cross country and track at Aquinas until he retired in 2017. Huppe is one of his best friends.

“I operated the clock at all the home games. The clock is next to the bench, so I was able to eavesdrop on everything he said and did for years,” said Wilson.

“I think he was a great coach. He never played the ‘us against them, chip on your shoulder’ kind of chip some coaches do,” he continued. “He was always ‘prepare, respect the game, respect your opponent, play as hard as you can and have fun.’

“Those are qualities I as a coach tried to emulate and Mark’s a big reason why I tried to be that way myself. Mark was a good coach.”

Mark and Maureen have a great love story, too, added Wilson. They met when they were both teachers at Queen of the Holy Rosary School in Overland Park — and the late Sister Kathleen Condry, OSU, was their matchmaker. 

Forever grateful

Mark and Maureen are both grateful for the way these three Catholic high schools have demonstrated their love.

“What I thought was so wonderful was how they all came together to recognize Mark,” said Maureen, now teaching special education for EMBRACE through Benedictine College in Atchison.

“I was so proud of our whole Catholic community for coming out and recognizing all that he’s done,” she said.

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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  • Mark Huppe received his eternal reward today. He is the uncle to my daughter-in-law. I never had the privilege of knowing him but his impact – indeed his light – shines brightly in his niece and all her family. Thank you for writing this story.

  • Thank you for writing this article! Mr. Huppe is incredible! It was always fun to see him in the halls and interact with him. He always made me laugh and brightened my day! He is some one I am Truly honored to have know, even if it was just a little bit. He taught my Father at queen of the Holy Rosary in Overland park, and was working at St. James when I was a student!