By Bill Foley
Jim Hope can’t help but smile.
No, it isn’t because he is so happy in his recent retirement as the vice principal at Butte High School, though, admittedly, that is a factor.
The long-time Butte coach has an extra spring in his step because his daughter, Jeni, was named head coach of the Butte High volleyball team last week.
With the hiring, the Hopes join some exclusive company as a father-daughter combination to serve as head coach of a varsity sport at Butte High, joining the likes of Charlie Merrifield and Liza Dennehy.
“I’m pretty proud of her,” Jim Hope said. “You’re proud of your daughter when she’s following in your footsteps. I’m anxious to see her, and I think she’s going to do great. She’s kind of a born coach.”
Jim Hope was the first coach of the Butte High softball program, and he guided the Bulldogs to two state titles — three if you count when Butte High was initially declared co-champions after the 1996 state tournament was rained out. Butte High won it outright in 1992 and 1995.
The elder Hope also spent 20 years as an assistant to John Ries on the Butte High volleyball team. That included the 1995 state championship season.
During that time, Jeni Hope was paying attention.
“I was always like his sidekick,” she said of her father. “My first memories of life are in a gym and a softball field, and all I ever wanted to do was to wear that pinstriped uniform and be Amy Schenk or Dani Svejkovsky or Jami Hope. That’s the only thing I ever wanted to do.”
As Jeni Hope takes over for Katrina Berg, who stepped down as head coach after two seasons, she wants to make other girls feel that same pride in being a Butte High Bulldog.
“I want it to be where it’s really important to play for Butte High,” she said. “You are something special. I want ‘I play volleyball for Butte High’ to be something they say with pride.”
Hope is a 1998 graduate at Butte High. She played volleyball at Montana Western, putting in three seasons before her career ended because of knee and shoulder injuries.
Before graduating from Western in 2003, Hope was part of the 1998 Bulldog team that captured the first Frontier Conference championship in school history. That team was inducted into the Western Hall of Fame in 2016.
Jeni Hope gives credit to her teammates, including her sister Jami for that success.
“We were good,” Hope said. “My sister had a big hand in that. She was the outside hitter. She was the All-American.”
Like being Jim Hope’s daughter, begin Jami Hope’s little sister helped mold Jeni Hope into a coach.
“She was the gifted athlete,” Jeni Hope said of her sister. “ I was not the athlete she was. I mimicked everything she did, and I tried to work harder than she did. She was so naturally gifted. She makes me mad because I had to work for everything and she never had to work for a thing.”
Jeni Hope used her smarts to help make her a better player.
“I was always studying, and I was a student of every game,” she said. “I’m a sports junkie. I even watch hockey. I watch baseball, and the Olympics is my favorite thing because I’m such a sports junkie.
“Maybe that did make me a coach,” Jeni Hope added of watching her sister. “I was always watching her and studying her, and studying Cindy Sparks. I just wanted to be them.”
Hope moved to Texas after leaving Western. There, she assisted in volleyball at Smithson Valley High School, a school known as a volleyball power. She also coached the junior varsity soccer team.
Hope never played soccer.
“I didn’t. But I wish I would have now,” she said. “I loved it, and it’s huge down there, and it was a blast. The coaches I coached with all played NCAA somewhere, so I was just like a sponge.”
Seven years ago, Hope moved back to town. Then she married Brandon Cassidy and had a baby, Lyvia. She ran the grade school athletic programs at the school district before moving to Butte High, where she has taught business and technology and yearbook the past three seasons.
At Butte High, Hope will be assisted by Laura Mortensen, Shayla Danielson and recent Montana Tech player Nicole Peacock.
Together, the coaching staff will stress organization and patience as they look to return the Bulldogs to the state tournament for the first time in more than a decade.
“I really believe it takes four to five years to build a program,” Hope said. “You have to build from the elementary to the middle. You have to start from ground zero.”
Hope has already been in contact with her players, and she has set up camps.
“Some people are on board, and others are like, ‘What’s she doing? What’s she doing?’” she said. “I have a pretty clear vision and strategy, and I’m going to stick to it until it doesn’t work.”
When that vision starts to unfold, a smiling Jim Hope will be in the crowd watching proudly.
“I think I will be nervous,” Jim Hope said. “I know the anxiety and the pressure and excitement that goes with it. I think I will know what she is going through.”