Decatur High School senior Dom Cooks, who has been battling an inoperable brain tumor for two years, passed away Tuesday night at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way.
Cooks was diagnosed with the brain tumor in the spring of 2012 and his larger-than-life personality defined Decatur during his battle with the disease. Cooks received an outpouring of support from across the United States during his senior year and touched countless lives.
His condition had been worsening in recent days and Cooks had been in a coma since last weekend, said David Brower, Decatur principal.
“Our hearts are heavy as we mourn his passing,” he said. “But our spirits are lifted as we reflect on the way he has inspired us and thousands across the nation. Dom taught us that tomorrow is not a promise and to embrace each day. Dom’s family has asked for privacy during this time. I ask that you keep Dom and his family in your thoughts and prayers.”
Decatur has set up posters around the school’s campus for staff and students to share their thoughts. A candlelight vigil will be held at the school at 8 p.m. Wednesday night.
Cooks got to live out numerous dreams during his senior year at Decatur. Decatur students appointed him as an Associated Student Body (ASB) officer and named him homecoming king in the fall.
Cooks was a standout football and basketball player during his time at Saghalie Middle School and Decatur, before getting the dire diagnosis.
But Cooks was able to get back on the football field one last time during the Gators’ homecoming game against Auburn Mountainview during the fall at Federal Way Memorial Stadium. Cooks scored a ceremonial touchdown just before halftime of the game.
Cooks also had the honor of being a Decatur High School graduate. The school organized a special commencement ceremony in February. Cooks and his twin sister Diamond received their diplomas in front of a standing-room only crowd, which included a special appearance by Seattle Seahawks wide receiver and Super Bowl champion Doug Baldwin.
“My heart hurts. RIP Dom. God called one of his angels home last night,” Baldwin tweeted Wednesday after hearing the news of Cooks’ passing.
“Dom has been and remains a visible force here at Decatur, known by nearly everyone,” Brower wrote. “He told me that he believed his purpose in life, which he discovered after being diagnosed with brain cancer, was to teach and inspire others. He has indeed done that.”
“We will miss his daily words of wisdom that he shared over the announcements. And we will miss his positive attitude and his irrepressible wit. But he will always be in our hearts. He is a true Decatur Gator and it was a major part of his identity. Though we mourn today, we believe, as he always told us, ‘It is a great day to be a Gator.’”
Ironically, on the day of his passing, Cooks officially finished up in third place in the 2014 Air National Guard USA TODAY High School Sports Inspiration contest, which concluded Tuesday morning. Cooks finished with a grand total of 214,260 votes during the final round, which included 10 student/athletes from across the nation. Aaron Gebhart from New Oxford, Penn., won with 335,765 votes.
Cooks was awarded a berth into the final round after finishing in 11th place during the semifinal round of voting. But Cooks was awarded a berth into the top 10 after Nicholas Hibbeler gave up his spot.
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.
It was 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.”
Support for students
Decatur will continue to offer counseling for students, as needed, through the end of the school year, Brower said. Parents are asked to be open to talking to your child about how he or she is feeling, and to be aware that students express grief in unique and highly personal ways.
According to Brower’s email, a death often will trigger difficult memories for those who have already experienced a loss. Some act out their feelings and emotions by becoming angry or anxious. Others mask their feelings by pretending not to care, or by exhibiting inappropriate behavior like joking, laughter and so on. Some simply become withdrawn.
“If you notice any profound change in behavior that signals that your student is struggling, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help,” Brower wrote, adding there are a variety of community counseling agencies. He said if parents need assistance, they can call their student’s advisor at (253) 945-5200.