Popp, 82, died of natural causes in his sleep at his Mooresville home Thursday, July 19. Almost immediately, flowers appeared, and a makeshift memorial was started beneath the "Coach Joe Popp Stadium" sign on Magnolia Street. And after a weekend of extensive local media coverage and widespread social media remembrances, Popp was laid to rest Tuesday afternoon after a procession through downtown, a moment of silence at the high school football stadium that bears his name and the final stop at Glenwood Memorial Park.
Known by Mooresvillians of all ages as "Coach Popp," Popp's achievements included leading the Mooresville Senior High School football team to its only state title in 1961. But in a football coaching career that went on to include stops at the college and professional levels, a return to the Mooresville sidelines in the mid 1970s and a coaching staff position with the Cleveland Browns from the 1980s until his retirement in the early 1990s, Popp's unwavering passion for Mooresville, and support for all Mooresville teams, are what extended his reputation well beyond those who played for him.
Popp was a regular at Mooresville games for decades. He cheered the teams, encouraged the players, counseled the coaches and carried the flag for Mooresville wherever he traveled. He was in the inaugural class of inductees in the Mooresville Sports Hall of Fame and is also a member of the Catawba College Hall of Fame and the Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame in Pennsylvania.
At his funeral, held Tuesday at Mooresville's Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, fellow coaches and friends, along with town representatives, praised Popp's contributions not only as a coach, but as a positive influence on everyone — players, parents and passersby — he met. He was, just last year, a guest of honor at the 50th reunion of the Mooresville Class of 1961, where stories of success on the field were matched with stories of life lessons Popp provided to his title-winning team.
Popp was preceded in death by his wife of 58 years, Peggy, who died last November. He is survived by daughter Karen and her spouse, M.C., of Chapel Hill, and sons Joey and his spouse, Catherine, of Charlotte, and Jim and his spouse, Kim, of Mooresville. Eight grandchildren also survive.
Memorial donations can be made to Mooresville School Athletics, Coach Joe Popp Stadium, in care of MGD-Coach Joe Popp Stadium Fund, 305 North Main Street, Mooresville, NC 28115. There is also a Coach Joe Popp Athletic Scholarship fund at Catawba College, 2300 West Innes Street, Salisbury, NC 28144.