NORMAN — As a girl, Debbie Copp thought she would be an educator, like her parents. But it was a part-time job as an OU student that diverted her talents and interests to sports communication, and she has never looked back at her classroom plans.
For the past 35 years, she has been at home as a part of the OU sports information team, having the title of director of publications and awards since 1990. She is the driving force behind the football and basketball game programs.
“I do most of the planning and production,” she said, adding that there are 40 pages of each 124-page football program that change with each game. “I have some incredible students working with me. They are good writers. They get to the meat of the story and they understand deadlines.”
In a recent three-week period, things were “a little crazy,” she said, with two home football games plus programs for the men’s and women’s basketball series. Mondays before home football games are especially hectic.
“There are four things that we don’t get until the Monday before the game: game notes, starting lineup, final roster and team stats,” she said. Then it is a well-practiced hustle to get the information in order and ready for the printer.
By Wednesday, she is reading “blue lines” (proofs), and from then on, it is out of her hands. The program goes to the press Thursday, then to the bindery for delivery by noon Friday so they are assured that the programs can be in the fan’s hands on Saturday.
Shelves lining the wall of her office have binders of programs she has produced since moving to that position in 1990. They serve as reminders of playing a part in great athletic seasons, of former athletes who have gone on to great things and of the “go Sooners” spirit of her alma mater.
Copp gets to know many of the student athletes on a personal level.
“We have some incredible student athletes whose stories are not just wins and losses. They have compelling stories of their lives and careers,” she said.
She is able to write those stories so well that she has assumed another official role: Directing the awards application process for the athletes. She began doing that unofficially several years ago in response to requests.
“And then they began to notice that the ones I worked on were getting the awards,” Copp said.
The rewards are great when she knows that her work has helped an athlete earn a scholarship or be recognized with a national award. She has helped several students with the application process, leading to NCAA scholarships for post-graduate work.
“I get to talk with the students … get to know them and find a compelling way to tell their story so that it stands out,” she said.
Copp can just look around her niche in the office complex for athletic communications located on the upper level at the north end of the stadium and marvel at how things have changed since she got that part-time job as a student. She was manager of the women’s basketball team.
It wasn’t until the 1977-78 school year that women athletes were attending on athletic scholarships, and she is proud of the role women’s sports play in OU’s athletic program.
Copp has been active for many years in the College Sports Information Directors of America and chairs the organization’s committee on committees.
Her work in sports information and with the organization was recently recognized when she was inducted into organization’s Hall of Fame. She is only the second OU staffer to receive that honor, the other being Harold Keith, legendary OU sports publicity director from 1930 to 1969.
“My hero,” she said of Keith.
Her leadership abilities are recognized on campus and she has been active in staff governance, twice serving as chair of the OU Staff Senate. She currently is serving in leadership with the OU campus United Way drive.
It was through her work on the Norman Women’s Resource Board, which she currently chairs, that she began work with the Sullivan Family and the benefit concert that they present each Christmas. She is Betty Sullivan’s “go-to” person working out details of the annual concert “so that all she has to do is sing.”
It is Copp’s plan to be at her job “as long as they will keep me. Working with students keeps me young, and I like to feel like I have made a difference in helping students,” she said.