Monday night before the Salem Middle School Boy’s final home game, the crowd was filled with quite a few friends and family of SMS Principal Ray Oppel; most of who knew the secret of what was about to happen.
An area of the floor was covered and although nobody had seen it, the product of a few months of preparation would soon come to pass — that the gym and the court would be named in honor of Ray C. Oppel.
Oppel, who had been kept in the quiet, waited on the side of the gym, watching his family, friends, SMS staff and School Board gather at the center of the basketball court.
After a few remarks by Salem Schools Board President and WSLM Sports Director Mark “Bubba” Abbott, Oppel’s grandson, Brandon Pepmeier took the podium.
“He’s served the community in education for 49 years,” said Brandon. “And been married to my grandmother for 50 years…which is pretty cool.”
Dr. Lynn Reed, Salem Superintendent, presented Oppel with a plaque and a promise. “When you’re ready to retire – in a few years down the road — we’ll put a bronze plaque up in the building. But for now, we honor you with this plaque. For your dedication and untiring commitment to athletics and academics at Salem Middle School.”
The gym was named the Ray C. Oppel Gymansium and the floor of the building’s newest gym was named the Ray C. Oppel Court, complete with his signature.
The plaque summed up everyone’s sentiments — “A champion for Salem Community Schools and a pillar of Cub Pride for over 48 years.”
Pepmeier noted that his grandfather ran track and cross country at Vincennes University in 1964 through 1966. The next two years, Oppel moved to Middle Tennessee State and in 1969 began teaching elementary PE at Salem.
From 1970 to 73, Oppel taught English at Salem High School and in 1975 completed his Masters in Counseling at IU.
In 1984, he became a counselor at SMS and has been the Principal of SMS for the past 23 years, first beginning in 1994.
Oppel has spent many years in coaching and officiating, as well.
In 1969 and 70, he was the 7th grade boys basketball coach. In 1970-71, he was the assistant Varsity Boys Basketball coach when they went to semi-state.
The next four years, he served as the JV Boys Basketball head coach and in 1974, took over as the Varsity Head Coach of the Salem Lions, through 1976.
Oppel also served as the Head Coach for Varsity Cross Country, when he took the team to the state finals in 1973.
In 1984, he served as the boys 8th grade coach and in 2000, helped his daughter, Kandi, coach.
Oppel began officiating in 1976 and has done basketball, volleyball, track and cross country.
In 1993 and 94, he began his first year as a start for the cross country state finals.