From the sports editor: Knapp, Wesley reluctantly move forward

Getting son Ben’s approval was important to Chip Knapp before he accepted the Wesley head coaching job. Delaware State News file photo

A friend’s death isn’t something you get over in a week or two.

It isn’t something that you can brush aside in a couple months or even a year.

After losing Wesley College football coach Mike Drass suddenly, Chip Knapp knows that.

“That really still hasn’t hit me,” Knapp said earlier this week. “A couple people came up to me at lunch today and were saying their condolences for him. And it kind of hit me there. We’d be … “

Knapp’s voice trails off before he finishes the story.

Drass’ longtime offensive coordinator and friend, Knapp was talking about him last Tuesday — just two weeks after his death.
That was also the day Knapp was named Drass’ successor as the Wolverines’ head coach.

Mourning may take a while but life moves on quickly.

And as much as it’s still going to take time for members of the Wesley football family to adjust to their new reality, there’s a coaching staff that needs to be rebuilt and another season to prepare for.

The funny thing about the Drass-Knapp partnership was always how different the two men were.

It wasn’t just that they looked different, it was that Drass was the defensive guy and Knapp was the offensive guru. Drass, known for his lively social life at Mansfield State, was loud and gregarious while Cornell-educated Knapp is more serious and introspective.

But it worked. For 29 years it worked.

“Mike was great in empowering me and taking my ideas,” said Knapp. “We were a very good combination. A good one-two punch so to speak.”

Their partnership added up to a record of 229-69-1 over the last quarter century with 13 straight NCAA Division III playoff appearances and six trips to the national semifinals.

Drass always said Knapp was more than qualified to coach at higher levels if he ever wanted to.

But then Knapp’s teenaged son, Ben, stopped breathing on a football trip in 2011. Suddenly, with Ben needing constant care, Knapp realized how fortunate he was to work for a coach who afforded him the time to spend with his son.

Getting Ben’s approval was important to Knapp before he accepted the Wesley head coaching job.

“I was getting him ready for school and the AD, Tracey Short, called (on Tuesday),” said Knapp. “I said, ‘Well Ben, this is it. We’re going to find out if I’m going to be the head coach.’”

Knapp said his wheelchair-bound son was so excited he could barely contain himself.

“That was an emotional moment for me — seeing how fired up he was,” said Knapp. “That kind of put the stamp of approval on everything to go forward.”

Now there’s a sense again of everything working out this way for a reason.

Knapp is still here, ready to step in for his friend.

Not surprisingly, Knapp is going to try to stick to the gameplan that he and Drass have always followed.

“The philosophy that Coach Drass espoused is not going to change,” said Knapp. “It’s going to be about people and relationship and making academic progress. Being the best football player you can be is part of it, too, but it’s not the main focus.”

So close but so far

If the law of averages really does even everything out in the end, then Dave Gordon and Darrell Gravatt have some big wins coming their way.

Consider that, in the last six seasons, Gordon — the Dover High baseball coach — has led the Senators to a 93-32 record, including 11 DIAA state tournament victories and five trips to the state semifinals.

But that’s where it always ends.

Dover’s 6-5, 10-inning loss to Cape Henlopen on Friday left the Senators 0-5 in those semifinal games. As the No. 17 team in the bracket, the Senators almost became the lowest-seeded squad to reach the state finals.

“I’m just so proud,” Gordon said afterwards. “We came from a 17 seed and our playoff run started last Monday at Delaware Military where we had to win to get in. We’ve been going after it every day since and made a hell of a run.”

Then there’s Gravatt, Caesar Rodney’s longtime girls’ soccer coach.

Since 2007, his Riders have put up an impressive 195-24-2 record with seven appearances in the state title game. CR, though, is now 0-7 in the state finals.

Again, Gravatt and his players could only politely accept their second-place trophy and then watch Padua’s shrieking players jump and down as they were handed their state championship trophy on Friday night.

“Second place tonight doesn’t feel very good,” Gravatt said as the Pandas celebrated their 5-1 win. “But when you take a holistic approach, we’re 16-2-1 and our only losses have been to Padua, the Division I champs.”

Odds & ends

• Former Dover High lacrosse standout Ryan McQuaide got to end his career the way every college athlete dreams of — celebrating a national championship with his teammates.

The senior defender was a member of the Yale men’s lacrosse team that won its first NCAA Division I national title with a 13-11 win over Duke last Monday.

• More than 600 athletes and 100 Unified partners are slated to take part in the Special Olympics Delaware Summer Games next weekend (June 8-9) at the University of Delaware athletics complex in Newark.

The Opening Ceremony takes place on Friday at 12:30 p.m. at the Carpenter Center. For more information, including sport-specific schedules, visit www.sode.org.

“The annual Summer Games is the highlight of the year for everyone involved,” said Special Olympics Delaware executive director Ann Grunert. “We take great pride in providing our athletes with a first-class event at which they can display their many athletic talents not only to family and friends, but their fellow Delawareans from the community. They never cease to amaze us … and inspire us.”

• The remaking of the University of Delaware’s athletic coaching staff continued with the announcement this week that softball coach John Seneca won’t be back. He had a record of 81-89 in three seasons.

Since Chrissi Rawak was hired as athletic director in 2016, the Blue Hens have already gotten new head coaches in football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s lacrosse, women’s soccer, volleyball, swimming & diving, men’s tennis and men’s golf. Searches are underway for coaches in women’s tennis and now softball.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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