Sports

"Decatur, Jefferson lose more than just good coaches"

"Five years ago Keith Cooper brought to Decatur the integrity every school needs in its athletic department.Two years ago, John Stephens did the same thing at Thomas Jefferson.The Gators and Raiders should be mourning their decisions to leave.Cooper, who previously was an assistant coach at Pacific Lutheran University, announced Thursday that he is headed to Ellensberg to join the Central Washington University men's basketball staff.Boys baseball coach Stephens, showing his commitment to his family, accepted a teaching position at Gig Harbor High.When Cooper came to Decatur, he inherited a team with one of the most talented players in the state - Quincy Wilder. Ed Boyce, the Gators' previous coach, had led Decatur to the state tournament four consecutive years. The Gators went 1-2 each of those seasons.Wilder, under Cooper's guidance, lifted Decatur into the state championship game. The Gators lost, but Wilder earned numerous honors, including the Gatorade Washington State Player of the Year.That first season wasn't as impressive as the ones that would follow for Cooper and Decatur. The first post-Wilder year, Aaron Bellessa emerged as the Gators' go-to man and went. His scoring average went from six a game to more than 16.Cooper melded Bellessa and the Gators into another state-bound team. Victor Rogers returned to the court that season, proving he was more than just a football player. After Wilder left, Cooper rarely had the talent to work with. At least not much talent that anyone could see besides he and his staff.The perfect example was two seasons ago when Cooper took some of the best athletes in the school and took them to state. Just one of the Gators starters that season specialized in basketball. For the others such as Wes Nurse (track, football), Kevin Louwsma (football, baseball), Nick Moxley (tennis) and Cory Smith (football, track) basketball was just something to keep them in shape for their other seasons.Coopers' courtside antics often were animated, and he wasn't shy about letting the refs know if they blew a call. But he never lost control.Cooper and his team always showed restraint and poise. If a player did get out of line, Cooper quickly sent him to the end of the bench with little hope of seeing the court again that game.Losing, of course, upset Cooper as it does any coach, but nothing made his stomach churn more than his team playing without class.He knew his players and could read them. He knew when they needed a little down time and when they were ready mentally to get back into the flow of a game.Team harmony is an essential element of his game plan. Without a star to rely on, such as Wilder, Cooper needed his squads to play together to be successful. If he sensed that a player wouldn't fit into the mix of the team, that player would be cut or told not to turn out. Even if that player would be the best on the team, Cooper opted to avoid the headaches rather than disrupt the harmony of the Gators.That approach carried over to the classroom as well.We lose a highly ethical and principled teacher and coach, is how Decatur Athletic Director Greg Flynn put it. Now, Cooper, of course, is no saint. Nobody is.But he approached the game with the attitude that it's a privilege to play and that the players have a responsibility that goes along with it. Sportsmanship and class are the skills that he tried to teach more than a pick-and-roll or boxing out.Decatur, Jefferson and all of Federal Way are going to be at a loss next season.Stephens brought an excitement and instilled a sense of pride to the Raiders baseball program. He made them believe that they're no longer also-rans, Stephens taught them how to be contenders.In leaving to spend more time with his family, Stephens teaches the most important lesson of all.I keep having to go back to what's important, he said. The main message that I want to send to them is let's prioritize our lives.Bob Coleman's column runs each Saturday in the Mirror.The Gators and Raiders should be mourning their decisions to leave.Cooper, who previously was an assistant coach at Pacific Lutheran University, announced Thursday that he is headed to Ellensberg to join the Central Washington University men's basketball staff.Boys baseball coach Stephens, showing his commitment to his family, accepted a teaching position at Gig Harbor High.When Cooper came to Decatur, he inherited a team with one of the most talented players in the state - Quincy Wilder. Ed Boyce, the Gators' previous coach, had led Decatur to the state tournament four consecutive years. The Gators went 1-2 each of those seasons.Wilder, under Cooper's guidance, lifted Decatur into the state championship game. The Gators lost, but Wilder earned numerous honors, including the Gatorade Washington State Player of the Year.That first season wasn't as impressive as the ones that would follow for Cooper and Decatur. The first post-Wilder year, Aaron Bellessa emerged as the Gators' go-to man and went. His scoring average went from six a game to more than 16.Cooper melded Bellessa and the Gators into another state-bound team. Victor Rogers returned to the court that season, proving he was more than just a football player. After Wilder left, Cooper rarely had the talent to work with. At least not much talent that anyone could see besides he and his staff.The perfect example was two seasons ago when Cooper took some of the best athletes in the school and took them to state. Just one of the Gators starters that season specialized in basketball. For the others such as Wes Nurse (track, football), Kevin Louwsma (football, baseball), Nick Moxley (tennis) and Cory Smith (football, track) basketball was just something to keep them in shape for their other seasons.Coopers' courtside antics often were animated, and he wasn't shy about letting the refs know if they blew a call. But he never lost control.Cooper and his team always showed restraint and poise. If a player did get out of line, Cooper quickly sent him to the end of the bench with little hope of seeing the court again that game.Losing, of course, upset Cooper as it does any coach, but nothing made his stomach churn more than his team playing without class.He knew his players and could read them. He knew when they needed a little down time and when they were ready mentally to get back into the flow of a game.Team harmony is an essential element of his game plan. Without a star to rely on, such as Wilder, Cooper needed his squads to play together to be successful. If he sensed that a player wouldn't fit into the mix of the team, that player would be cut or told not to turn out. Even if that player would be the best on the team, Cooper opted to avoid the headaches rather than disrupt the harmony of the Gators.That approach carried over to the classroom as well.We lose a highly ethical and principled teacher and coach, is how Decatur Athletic Director Greg Flynn put it. Now, Cooper, of course, is no saint. Nobody is.But he approached the game with the attitude that it's a privilege to play and that the players have a responsibility that goes along with it. Sportsmanship and class are the skills that he tried to teach more than a pick-and-roll or boxing out.Decatur, Jefferson and all of Federal Way are going to be at a loss next season.Stephens brought an excitement and instilled a sense of pride to the Raiders baseball program. He made them believe that they're no longer also-rans, Stephens taught them how to be contenders.In leaving to spend more time with his family, Stephens teaches the most important lesson of all.I keep having to go back to what's important, he said. The main message that I want to send to them is let's prioritize our lives.Bob Coleman's column runs each Saturday in the Mirror."

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the latest Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Sep 12 edition online now. Browse the archives.