Decatur senior Dom Cooks is a finalist in the 2014 Air National Guard USA TODAY High School Sports Inspiration contest.
Cooks is now one of 10 finalists from across the country, which started two weeks ago with 100 inspirational student/athletes. Cooks has advanced through two rounds of voting on the national newspaper's website, to make it into the top-10. During the first two rounds, Cooks has received over 100,000 votes.
Cooks, 18, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in the spring of 2012 and his infectious attitude has become a staple throughout the halls during the school year. The former football, basketball and track athlete makes numerous morning announcements, which include some type of inspirational message. He was also appointed as an Associated Student Body officer by the Decatur students and named Homecoming King in the fall.
The final round of voting will kick off at 9 a.m. Thursday morning and run through Monday morning at 9 a.m. Prizes for the 2014 Army National Guard Most Inspirational Athlete will be a feature article on USA TODAY High School Sports, Inspiration Trophy and an in-school presentation and a $1,000 donation to the school's athletic department.
But that's not the whole story. Cooks actually finished up in 11th place in the semifinal round of voting, which ended on Monday. Meaning he would not advance into the final round. But Tuesday morning, Decatur assistant athletic director Teri Galloway received a call from USA TODAY informing her that Cooks would advance into the top-10 after Nicholas Hibbeler gave up his spot in the final round.
Hibbeler is a soccer player from Park Hill High School in Kansas City and finished in 10th-place in the semifinal round. Hibbeler was diagnosed with testicular cancer in July and underwent surgery and six rounds of chemotherapy treatment while also playing high school soccer.
"He withdrew because he is inspired by Dom and wants him to advance," wrote Decatur Principal David Brower in an email. "With that act of sportsmanship, Dom is now in the finals."
This is the second time another student/athlete has thrown their support Cooks's way. After the first round of voting, Luke Smorey asked his voters to back Cooks. Smorey attends Baldwin High School in Pittsburgh.
"Although I am very thankful of everyone’s votes, I would like to ask for all of you to vote for a contestant who I have found much more inspirational than myself," Smorey wrote in an email. "His name is Dominique Cooks. He was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor and only has a few weeks to live. I feel that someone like Dominique deserves this award much more than I do."
According to Cooks's profile on the USA TODAY's website, "Although his body did not allow him to play anymore, his mind continues to inspire his teammates, his school and his community. He was on the sideline for every football and basketball game this year. He has become a motivational force in our school — even performing a speaking engagement at a neighboring high school. He is the most optimistic person I have every met. When once asked, 'what are you thankful for?' Dom replied, 'My tumor — for teaching me how to fight.' And Decatur — for teaching me how to love.' Even though his health is deteriorating, he is teaching his teammates and his school how to live."
Cooks is actually already a Decatur High School graduate. The school organized a special commencement ceremony last month after he was given three to six months to live earlier in the fall. Cooks and his twin sister, Diamond, received their diplomas in front of a packed audience at Decatur, which also included a special appearance by Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin.
The cancer is sitting on Cooks’s brain and doctors cannot surgically remove it because of its location. Therefore, chemotherapy and radiation is the only option for killing and shrinking the tumor.
Cooks played football for Leon Hatch as a freshman and sophomore on the Gators' defensive line. But everything changed during the spring of 2012 when doctors discovered the tumor. The diagnosis has obviously changed Cooks’s perspective on life, as well as sports. The left side of his body is now pretty much useless and he spends a lot of his time in a wheelchair.
But Cooks got the honor of getting back on the football field during the fall. After a lot of communication between Decatur and Auburn Mountainview, Cooks was able to score one last touchdown for Decatur.
On that October night, the Gators' offense lined up, with Cooks split out on the right side of the line in front of the Auburn Mountainview defense. Decatur quarterback Isaiah Hatch, the son of the head coach, then hit junior receiver Isaiah Diggs with a pass, Diggs then pitched the ball to Cooks on a hook-and-ladder play. Cooks did the rest, completing a few juke moves before scoring his “dream” touchdown.
After he crossed the goal line, Cooks completed his special “touchdown dance,” which included finger-rolling the football out of his right hand, before both teams, coaches, cheerleaders and fans surrounded him, yelling his nickname, “Cookie, Cookie, Cookie.”