Beyond the Badge

Meet Heidi Wippel, the coach transforming gyms and lives

Coach at Corcoran prison with baseball mural behind her.
Heidi Wippel, coach at California State Prison, Corcoran.

Meet Heidi Wippel, recreation coordinator, physical educator and “coach” at California State Prison, Corcoran. Working in various capacities under the Office of Correctional Education for 18 years, Wippel has worked at CSP-Corcoran since September 2014.

She has transformed empty gym rooms from overflow dormitories into functional recreation spaces, also improving the equipment available on yards and in fields. (Read a gym transformation story.)

In addition, she has recruited outside volunteers to enhance the “Rehabilitation through Sports” concept at the prison. Coach Wippel has been an active member of the Coaches’ Leadership Council, Strategic Plan Team, and a vital member of the leadership at Visions Adult School.

Q&A with Heidi Wippel, coach at CSP-Corcoran

What does a normal day look like for you?

You can find me on most days making visits to the various yards, dayrooms, and program offices, carrying my notebook to keep track of the recreational needs in each facility.

As the sole Recreational Coach, I am responsible for procurement, delivery, tracking and facilitating of all recreational equipment within the facility. This includes social games such as chess boards, pinochle cards, dominoes, Scrabble, and board games.

As the coach, I also facilitate recreation within the gyms and on the fields for:

  • soccer
  • basketball
  • softball
  • handball
  • pickle ball
  • yoga (mats)
  • table tennis
  • horseshoes
  • flag football
  • volleyball
  • badminton
  • Frisbee
  • Hacky sacks
  • bocce ball

I also coordinate fitness including pull-up bars, medicine balls, heavy bags, speed bags, resistance bands, sand bags, and dip bars.

In addition, I coordinate all of these activities along with setting up tournaments and leagues in conjunction with the Inmate Advisory Council, custody, and administration. I oversee the recreation for a total of six separate main yards, multiple small management yards, dayrooms, and three gyms.

This means I have to visit different yards and facilities on different days. CSP-Corcoran has many different missions including Minimum Support, Level 2, Level 3, Level 4, Enhanced Outpatient Program, Long Term Restricted Housing, Short Term Restricted Housing, Protected Housing and more. Therefore, it is important I work directly with the Captains, Sergeants, and Correctional Officers on what is allowed for each mission. Together we develop policies that support the safety and security of the institution, but also use sports and recreation to provide a valuable piece of the rehabilitative puzzle.

What aspect of physical education could surprise someone unfamiliar with correctional facilities?

Most people don’t know the recreation coach works as the centerpiece of a flywheel between the incarcerated populations we serve, the institution and the staff, and the Office of Correctional Education under the Division of Rehabilitative Programs.

Most people also don’t realize how important recreation is to our population. Sports and recreation can foster rehabilitation through the development of social skills (communication, teamwork, and leadership skills), improved physical, mental and social health, self-esteem and confidence, health education, and can even result in employment opportunities.

The improvement of the climate in general within the prison contributes to a more positive atmosphere, and constructive use of leisure time, both in custody and after release, improving relationships between staff and incarcerated, and also among incarcerated persons themselves.

What was your best workday while working as a physical education instructor at CSP-Corcoran?

When I brought in an outside volunteer basketball team called “Between the Lines.” On Monday, March 3, 2020, and Tuesday, March 4, 2020, CSP-Corcoran held its first ever, standing-room only, high-intensity “Between the Lines” event.

In my eyes, I hope it will be remembered as part of my legacy as the first female coach ever to serve at CSP-Corcoran. For incarcerated person Hernandez, it will also be part of his legacy as he sunk the game-winning basket, making his team the only team of the day to beat the pros from “Between the Lines.”

Co-founders Lamont “Tory” Stapleton and Darren Duncan bring the sport of basketball, and all the valuable life lessons associated with it, to the courts of rehabilitation centers throughout the country.

It is their belief that basketball can be used to teach constructive and beneficial lessons. These lessons stick with players, traveling beyond the confines of the playing court, and translate into everyday life.

Some of these lessons include:

  • belief in oneself
  • the value of discipline and hard work
  • responsibility and accountability
  • how to be a team player
  • to overcome obstacles and adversity
  • dealing with wins and losses
  • persistence
  • time management
  • making sacrifices
  • and an overall respect for others.

For most, the gym became a place where, for a moment, everyone could escape from the constraints of concrete walls and fences. A place where high fives, enthusiasm, smiles, and even laughter filled the prison walls.

Sports and recreation have the ability to bring people together.

See more stories highlighting CDCR/CCHCS staff.

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