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As if Derek Leppert’s funeral wasn’t difficult enough for Olathe West High School baseball coach Rick Sabath, it’s timing — coming as it did in October, when he and Leppert, his close friend and an assistant coach at Olathe West, typically loved to follow postseason baseball — made Sabath feel the emptiness even more.
With Major League Baseball’s World Series just around the corner, Sabath recalls past years tracking the playoffs with Coach “Lepp,” incessantly texting each other to second-guess the moves made by the big league managers.
“It’s just something that, truthfully as the playoffs are going on right now, I miss the most,” said Sabath who worked side-by-side with Leppert for five years at Blue Valley Southwest High School before they both left three years ago to found the baseball program at the new Olathe West.
A COVID-19 diagnosis
Leppert died unexpectedly on Sept. 10 at the age of 40 after he appeared to be on the road to recovery from a bout with COVID-19. According to Leppert’s wife, Stacy, he started showing the symptoms of the disease while at home in late August.
“He had the fever. He lost taste and smell,” said Stacy Leppert.
Derek Leppert checked into the Olathe Medical Center, Aug. 31, where he tested positive for COVID-19. After he was placed in isolation for eight days at the hospital, he was transferred on Labor Day to a rehabilitation center because of trouble with his muscles.
At the end of his stay in the hospital, Leppert tested negative twice, then again a third time upon entering the rehab center. Stacy Leppert still doesn’t know why things turned for the worst. She’s awaiting the results of an autopsy.
Leppert is one of the 171 Johnson Countians who have died from COVID-19, a total tracked by the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.
Outpouring of support
Meanwhile, an outpouring of sympathetic messages continue to stream toward Stacy, whose eight-year wedding anniversary to Derek occurred only two days before he died.
“I’ve gotten cards in the mail from people I’ve never even met,” she said. “One, in particular, that sticks out in my mind was from Arizona. It was a young man that said all these wonderful things about how Derek had inspired him years ago.”
Sabath announced at Leppert’s funeral that the Olathe West baseball field would be renamed the Derek Leppert Memorial Field with a dedication ceremony planned for next spring, when the team hopes to take the field for in-person competition for the first time since the death “Lepp.”
“It was a slam dunk for our whole community,” said Sabath. “Principal Jay Novacek and Athletic Director Pat Butler were ahead of me on that.”
Leppert started coaching in the metro at Mid-America Nazerene in 2003. From 2007 to 2010, he was the head coach at Friends University in Wichita before returning to the Kansas City area. Last January, Leppert was recognized by the American Baseball Coaches Association convention as one of top assistant baseball coaches in the country.
“I’ve always been very proud of him,” said Stacy Leppert. “I think I’ve always realized the impact he was making on people and players more than he did.”