Every town has heroes; quiet, exceptional people who give without expectation of reward, who prefer serving to service, who show up every day.
The long tenured teacher, tough but fair, bedrock of her school. The modest patriot who, in her own small way, supports the effor. The veteran coach who always coaxes the best out of each life she touches.
Maybe the hero is the advocate who, though unaffected by disease, collects blood for those who are. Or the volunteer, whose greatest contribution was convincing others to join her.
Most towns can lay claim to a few of these types. A lucky few have most.
Only Lower Merion High School in Ardmore has Sandy Hoopes.
Hoopes has the biography of four or five good, solid people.
She has taught health and physical fitness at Lower Merion for 41 years. She’s coached its field hockey team for 40 of them and girls track—after founding the program in 1975—for 37.
"If everybody gives a little bit and helps out, it is gonna be a better world.”—Sandy Hoopes
For the last six years, she’s organized a large scale care-package operation for troops in Iraq—first through her brother, a National Guardsman who spent a year there, and later with the help of former students who had enlisted.
And since 1983, she’s run the Lower Merion High School Community Blood Drive.
“I’ve had so many family members who have needed blood transfusions that I thought this would be a great way to give back,” she explained. “And the kids just took to it.”
Since the first term of the Reagan administration, twice annually, Hoopes and a growing legion of student volunteers (at last count, it was up to 80), have prevailed upon the community to roll up a sleeve and donate a pint to the Red Cross. Each of the roughly 250 donors they sign up saves three lives, Hoopes said. She expects the Nov. 29 drive to be the biggest yet.
“That’s what we’re all planning for.”
If such generosity seems like it comes naturally to Hoopes, it’s because it does. She learned it at her mother’s knee.
“My mom was always a volunteer, and she was a teacher also. She taught my sister and brother and I to give back the community. She set an example and inspired me.”
Hoopes emulates her and encourages her students to do the same. She’s a sort of volunteerism evangelical. It’s not enough to save yourself. You have to bring others aboard, too.
“I want my students to learn to love to volunteer and to give back to their communities—in Lower Merion and after they leave,” she said.
“Everybody’s got to give a little bit. If everybody gives a little bit and helps out, it is gonna be a better world.”
On Oct. 26, Hoopes, still lithe and youthful at 64, coached her last field hockey game. She plans to coach track again in the spring, but after that, who knows? She may teach next year. She may settle into retirement with her husband David and their big German shepherd.
After the final whistle blew, she was mobbed by a group of girls she’d spent the fall molding. The weather was warm, and they had won. If it was the beginning of an end, it was a fitting one.