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story.lead_photo.caption Westside Eagle Observer/MIKE ECKELS Fess Thompson (center) stops to work out a few bugs with Abby Tilley (left), Seth Coleman and Annabelle Schopper during the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs off-season practice at Peterson Gym in Decatur Aug. 7. Tilley and Schopper were part of Thompson's Lady Bulldog team that made it to the state 2A playoffs last season.

DECATUR -- The face of Decatur boys' basketball will sport a new look in November when Fess Thompson, the Lady Bulldog senior girls' coach, takes over the program as head senior basketball coach for both programs.

Thompson will take over the program from long-time boys' basketball coach John Unger. In his first three seasons with the Bulldogs, Unger took his team to a pair of 2A-4West district championships and a 10-1 regular-season championship.

Unger left the Decatur program in July to take the principal position at West Fork Middle School. Unger will not be alone when he starts at West Fork. Assistant basketball and head baseball coach Jason Porter will take a teaching position at the middle school as well.

Thompson brings a vast wealth of knowledge and experience to the Decatur program, having played both college and international professional basketball. He played on the St. Louis Saints, Wellington New Zealand as well as a team in Mexico. He also played on the Lakeland Blue Ducks in Lakeland, Fla., a United States Basketball League minor league team. Thompson even played a short time for the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters.

"Playing on these teams gave me a chance to travel the world and see places that others only dream of seeing," Thompson said. "I was blessed to have had these experiences."

More than anything, Thompson loves to teach basketball at the high school and junior high school level, particularly boys' basketball. But he admits he has a love for girls' basketball as well and it showed during the 2018-19 girls' basketball season when he coached the Lady Bulldogs to an 11-14 overall and 6-4 conference record and an appearance in the state play-off, the first for a Decatur team since 1998. He started bonding with the Lady Bulldogs during several summer league appearance in 2018.

Thompson is first to admit that coaching a girls' team is a completely different experience.

"I think girls' basketball is the purest form of basketball, and I just love coaching the girls and watching them play," Thompson confesses.

He also admits that he does not know what the future holds for the Lady Bulldogs but he has faith in each of his players and knows that they will try to be at their best for each and every game. He sports an interesting philosophy about his girls.

"How sweet do you want this lemonade to be?" Thompson asks. "If life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. So, we are going to make a lot of lemonade this season. I've got confidence in the group that is coming back. I can't tell you who the five will be on the court Nov. 14, but all I know is that I have some girls that are going to be here, work hard and be ready."

One of Thompson's goals is to instill a love of the sport in all his players, boys and girls alike.

"I just love teaching kids basketball," said Thompson. "But not just teaching them the game but watching the things I teach being put into action and actually seeing the progress from simple drills, simple cross over drills and simple behind the back drills. Then when you see a kid do it in a game, especially one of those kids you know was not able to execute that drill, that is the beauty part of this."

Thompson is quick to credit Unger for making the transition a little easier by instilling the same values in his kids early on in their high school basketball careers, the same philosophy Thompson uses in his programs.

"John Unger laid a great foundation and didn't leave the cupboard bare by any means," said Thompson. "Unger instilled a work ethic in these guys. So you continue to build on what has already started. Decatur owes Unger a whole lot and I wouldn't be here without him. To leave the program in the state that it is in now, I'm so happy and grateful to him. I still text him just to say thank you for the state that he left this program in for me."

During the 2018-19 basketball season, the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs saw a growing attendance at each of their home games, a trend Thompson hopes to continue this season and beyond.

"We have to do things to get the fans to the games," Thompson began. "One of the main ways to get the fans to support us is to win games. It is just like in the movie, "Field of Dreams," when they say, 'If you build it, they will come.' The idea was the main thing we tried to do last year, trying to build something that is sustainable. We are not trying to be a fad that's going on right now We are trying to instill long-term success. If we can do that each year, we can gain more and more fans.

"We want to give Decatur a product they can be proud of, they want to talk about, to rave about, and that, in turn, will bring the people in," Thompson concluded.

Thompson will be assisted by Jeremy Schopper, former assistant coach for both the eight-man football and baseball teams last season. Schopper will take over as head junior high boys' and girls' basketball coach and assistant for the senior high. He has big plans for both his junior high teams this year as he takes on the program for the first time.

"I'm really excited about the opportunity. It's going to be a lot of fun working with Fess and the kids," Schopper said. "I have a lot of good kids with a lot of talent and athleticism coming up through the ranks. It's going to be a blast to watch what they can achieve.

There are a good number of younger athletes coming into the junior high program, for which Schopper has big plans during the coming basketball season in November.

"I will be the coach for the seventh, eighth and ninth graders. I will teach them the fundamentals and how to play the right way," Schopper concluded. "Hopefully, when I am done with them, I can send them on to the high school and they will be ready to play competitive varsity basketball and win some conference titles for Decatur."

In years past, anyone attending any Gravette or Gentry volleyball, basketball or baseball games have seen Thompson behind home plate as an umpire or running down the court as a referee or standing tall on the referee's stand in volleyball. He admits he loves the challenges officiating brings and plans on continuing. But his teams come first and he plans to spend most of his time building the programs.

Fess Thompson has but one request for the community and the many loyal Bulldog and Lady Bulldog fans.

"I would like the fans to come out and support us and, more than anything, support the kids."

Sports on 08/14/2019

Print Headline: Thompson takes over as new head basketball coach

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