Dom Cooks lived his life to the fullest. It was just a life that was too short.
The Decatur High School senior passed away Tuesday night at St. Francis Hospital in his hometown of Federal Way after a two-year battle with an inoperable brain tumor. It’s always a sad day when somebody dies. But it’s an even sadder day when somebody so young passes away, especially from something like cancer.
But, if the definition of living a good life is inspiring people, then Dom Cooks lived an amazing life. He literally inspired thousands and thousands of people, both young and old, during his 18 years.
As a high school student, you are the one who is supposed to get instruction and guidance from your teachers and administrators. But it was Cooks who was doing the teaching at Decatur during the 2013-14 school year.
He made the morning announcements every day, which included some type of inspirational message, and was named an ASB officer by the Decatur students. Cooks was named the homecoming king and the school even held an early commencement ceremony in February so he could call himself a Decatur graduate.
Dom Cooks was truly an inspiration. To illustrate that point, all you have to do is look on the USA TODAY’s website. Cooks received an amazing 214,260 votes during the final round of the newspaper’s 2014 National Guard Inspiration contest, which featured some of the most inspirational high school athletes from across the country.
I first met Dom last October when I was invited into the family’s home the week before the Gators’ homecoming football game. This is when Dom scored his last touchdown for the Decatur football team, completing his “dream” of getting back on turf at Federal Way Memorial Stadium.
Just before halftime against Auburn Mountainview, Cooks crossed the goal line and completed his special “touchdown dance.” It was as poignant of a moment as you can have in life — spanning the emotional scale from tear-jerking to genuine and utter happiness.
The thing I realized after spending those couple hours in the family home is that Dom could talk. Boy, could he talk.
I think I might have asked two questions during those two hours, which is a very rare occurrence when interviewing a high school athlete. Pulling a quote out of a kid is sometimes like extracting a tooth. That wasn’t the case with Dom. Once he got going on the topic of basketball or football, there was no stopping him.
That’s just how he lived his life.
In the end, the only thing that could stop Dom Cooks was that tumor on his brain. Since being diagnosed in 2012, Cooks didn’t want anybody to feel sorry for him and never thought, for a second, that he wasn’t going to beat the awful disease of cancer.
“At the beginning of the school year, doctors told me that I had three to six months to live,” Cooks told me back in October. “But nobody is going to tell me stuff like that. Before I got this tumor, I was going to the NBA or the NFL. That’s still what I’m going to do. Can’t nobody tell me any different. I’m definitely going to beat this. I’m kinda self-motivated like that.”
My heart goes out to Dom’s family, including his mother, Tasha Wade, aunt Charmayne Harper and grandmother, Faye Wade. But, especially to his twin sister Diamond. Nobody has any clue how hard the last two years must have been for her.
It’s common knowledge that twins have a special bond. They have the ability to finish each other’s sentences and feel the pain of their twin. With that in mind, Diamond Cooks’s pain must have been unbearable watching her twin brother’s health deteriorate since being diagnosed back in 2012.
My heart also goes out to the Decatur community. Living in Twin Lakes, I have a special bond with this place. My wife graduated from Decatur and my kids are, and will be, attending the school. Cooks’s death marks the latest in a very rough few years at Decatur.
In May 2013, then-senior Pavlo Myronets was killed in a car crash on Highway 167. Former Decatur and Twin Lakes swim coach Rob Hill died in a plane crash in February 2012.
In September 2011, junior Robert “Hurricane” Harris was at a family barbecue when he drowned in Lake Tapps after trying to retrieve a football that was floating in the water.
In June 2010, Decatur seniors Derek King and Nicholas Hodgins were killed when they were struck by a drunken driver on Interstate 5, just three days before their graduation.
Former Decatur grad Emmanuel Franco, 21, was killed Dec. 29, 2010, after a drunken driver crashed into him at the intersection of South 320th Street and Pacific Highway South.
The Gator Nation will persevere, like it always has. But the loss of Cooks is going to be a hard one to deal with for Decatur.
“Honestly, if it wasn’t for Decatur, I don’t think I would be here today,” Cooks told me. “I just love Decatur. I love the kids at Decatur. It’s one, big happy family. A lot of kids in school look forward to the weekends. But I wish we had school on the weekends because I love being here so much.”