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State champs: Happe plays key role as team's official driver

Pictured with the state championship trophy, and softball team members who also play for Hastings High School girls hockey, is Jim Happe, known simply as Happe to the team.

Jim Happe has been driving for Hastings Bus Company for 16 years, and he drove for the Hastings High School girls hockey team right from the start.

Six years ago, a hockey player mentioned to Happe that she played softball and would like him to drive for the high school softball team, too.

"About three games into [the season], I was hooked," Happe said .

Since then, Happe has escorted the high school softball girls to their games, as well as to the state tournament the last three years.

As Kaitlin Stark made the game-winning catch, Happe jumped up cheering, "They did it, they finally did it!"

"You just can't beat these kids," Happe said. "We've had the pitching the last few years. This year we had hitting too."

After celebrations on the field, the team loaded the bus and headed back to Hastings. What the players and Happe didn't know was that they were about to be greeted by Hastings police and fire departments, along with parents. The bus was escorted, with sirens and flashing lights, around Hastings ending at Hastings High School.

"(Winning the state champion) didn't really hit me until the police escort showed up," Happe said. "Things went nuts as we hit town. The bus was leaning to the side as the girls waved."

Happe has no plans for retiring from the position. At the state tournament banquet, coach Dean Robinson called Happe the "chauffeur for the softball team."

The softball team honored Happe at their end-of-season banquet with a championship state medal.

"Happe is incredible," Robinson said. "He is dedicated and has done everything I've asked him to; he's even scouted for me. We love having him with us. Every year we are willing to give up riding a coach bus and take the yellow school bus, so that he can drive us to state."

"The season just ended last week and I'm looking forward to next year," Happe said.