Unfinished business

Unfinished business

Cumberland native and Brown University senior Mike Coppolino, shown getting ready to throw the hammer during a workout last spring on the Bears’ campus, took third place in the 35-pound weight in what turned out to be the final meet of his collegiate career, the Ivy League indoor championship meet on Feb. 29 at Cornell University.
Cumberland’s Coppolino ends outstanding throwing career at Brown missing golden opportunity to win Ivy League’s hammer title

CUMBERLAND – In a perfect world, Mike Coppolino would be enjoying one of the most memorable months of May in his life.

On May 9, the Cumberland native and Brown University senior would have celebrated the biggest accomplishment of his athletic career by capturing the Ivy League championship in the 16-pound hammer at the meet, affectionately known as the HEPS (Heptagonal Championships), in New Haven, Conn. Two months ago, all signs pointed to Coppolino as a huge odds-on favorite to win the coveted title – no questions asked.

Later that month, during Brown’s Commencement Weekend, Coppolino would be walking “across the stage” to receive his bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics-Computer Science. A relaxing summer and a well-deserved break awaited him in the coming months, as did an outstanding opportunity on the West Coast working for Facebook.

Unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is far from perfect right now, and you don’t have to remind Coppolino that it isn’t.

On Sunday afternoon, Coppolino won’t be in Providence, but he will be at home with his family, taking part in a :Virtual Degree Conferral Ceremony” that will feature remarks from some of the university’s leaders and graduates and the virtual conferral of degrees.

And as for the Ivy League outdoor championship meet? That’s not going to happen.

Less than two weeks after placing third in the 35-pound weight with a 62-foot-½ throw at the Ivy League indoor championship meet at Cornell University’s Barton Hall, Coppolino, who was one of the Bears’ captains, and his teammates saw their entire outdoor campaign get wiped out by the pandemic.

Coppolino, who began his throwing career as a freshman at Cumberland High before graduating in 2016, had never won a major championship with the Clippers or Brown. As a senior at Cumberland, he landed All-American honors in the hammer by taking sixth place at the New Balance Outdoors Nationals, and while that accomplishment was special, as was his multiple third-place finishes at Ivy League meets, he dearly wanted to embrace the opportunity to meet all his expectations and strike gold at the HEPS, where he would have been the number one seed.

“To have that taken away is definitely something that’s really hard to cope with,” he said. “It’s definitely humbling because you train eight years for basically one meet, and when that meet doesn’t happen, you ask yourself all these questions, like, ‘Why have I been doing this for so long?’”

“But it gives you a lot of perspective, because after a while, you kind of realize that you weren’t doing this to be a champion, for bragging rights, or anything like that,” he continued. “(You were doing this) as a personal pursuit to be the best person you could be and (learn) skills that you could take away from track. It’s being part of a team, being disciplined, and working for so long to accomplish something that you thought you’d never be able to accomplish before.”

Coppolino’s marvelous resume at Brown also includes fifth places in the weight at the 2019 Ivy League indoor meet and hammer at the 2018 Ivy League outdoor meet, several victories and runner-up finishes at invitational meets, an appearance at the NCAA East Regionals last spring, Academic All-Ivy honors, and his name in the Bears’ record books with the fifth-best throws in the program’s history in the weight (62 feet, 11¼ inches) and hammer (200 feet, nine inches).

Coppolino’s 200-foot-9 throw came in a third-place showing at last spring’s Ivy League outdoor meet, “and the only people ahead of me were (Princeton’s) Adam (Kelly) and (Brown teammate) Owen (Russell), and they were both seniors,” he recalled. “They’re both amazingly talented and they’re both training to be Olympians, but now that they were gone, I knew (winning this year’s Ivy League title) was going to be a complete tossup, but I knew I could beat guys out.”

While talking about his collegiate career and his quest to train for and capture the Ivy League title, Coppolino spent a few minutes talking about his start in the sport and the coaches who helped him grow and excel in his throwing career, beginning with former Cumberland head football coach Chris Skurka, who coached Coppolino during his freshman year, and ending with Brown throws coach Craig Kinsley, who represented the U.S. in the javelin at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

As a freshman, Coppolino played football for the Clippers, and while football was his main focus, “my father, who was a thrower at Classical, said, ‘Why don’t you go out for track?’ Coppolino noted. “Chris Skurka was also the throws coach and he was awesome. He really taught me the fundamentals.”

When Skurka accepted a job the following year with the Dean College football program, Matt Campanelli took over as the Clippers’ throws coach for the next two seasons, and “he was really influential,” Coppolino said. “He threw at Williams College and was a D-III All-American there, and he taught me how to train and how to work.”

Campanelli then took over as the school’s athletic director, leaving the Clippers without a throws coach the following year, but veteran head coach Tom Kenwood did his part to help Coppolino during his senior year.

“When I was qualifying for the states and regionals, he made me a big focus,” said Coppolino, whose brothers, Mark and Phil, also threw for the Clippers – Phil will graduate this spring and continue his career at Cornell. “T.K. really wanted to see me do well and he really helped me a lot.”

Coppolino, who took second in the hammer at the New England Outdoor Championships and was ranked fifth in the nation in that event as a senior, was recruited by Brown throws coach Darcy Wilson, “and that was awesome for her to believe in me,” Coppolino added. But Wilson soon left the program to coach at Harvard, and Kingley eventually became Coppolino’s coach.

“He didn’t have as much hammer-specific knowledge, but he made up for that with his passion for the sport and the school and his training habits and mentality,” Coppolino noted. “He had spent five or six years at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., and he really helped me out so much in those areas that I wouldn’t have been able to get from anyone else.”

His spring season lost, Coppolino knows that he could get it back if he decided to transfer to another school and compete as a graduate student. The NCAA granted an additional year of eligibility to seniors who saw their spring seasons cut short, but the Ivy League is one of seven conferences in the country that does not allow graduate students to compete.

But Coppolino said that he’s ready for the next stage in his life. First or foremost, he has a excellent job awaiting him in August on the West Coast as a software engineer for Facebook, and even if he decided to attend grad school and continue his career, “that would mean getting accustomed to a new coach, a new program, and a new league,” he added.

“If Brown gave me another shot, I would already have called my recruiter and told her (my plans to stay at Brown),” he added. The HEPS and the atmosphere of that event, as well as the days and team dinners leading up to it, had always been a special time for Coppolino and “could never be replicated for me,” he said. “And the HEPS was what I’ve been working toward for so long. To go somewhere else and do well would be great, but the HEPS was something that I really wanted.”