In memory of “Cookie”
Published 8:52 am Tuesday, January 27, 2015
As expected late on a Friday afternoon, traffic was bumper to bumper as a green and white Ford van was attempting to gain access to a busy US 15/501 near Chapel Hill.
Behind the wheel was a driver more accustomed to dealing with slow-moving farm tractors on a two-lane road in rural northeastern North Carolina. However, as a successful football coach – known far and wide for designing defenses capable of causing nightmares for opposing teams – Ron Cooke wasn’t the type to back down from a good fight. But in this case, the competition was sheet metal, rubber and glass, all seeking the same few feet of asphalt real estate.
“We’re merging boys,” Coach Cooke shouted to his passengers as he pressed down on the accelerator.
I was among Coach Cooke’s passengers that day. Seated directly behind the driver, I clutched the arm rest on my seat with such force that my knuckles were turning blood red. To the right, the lane in which the van was traveling was about to end. To the left was a sea of traffic, to include massive 18 wheelers.
Coach Cooke never flinched… if he did, I failed to sense it since my eyes were closed tight. He masterfully blended into traffic and we made it safe and sound to our destination.
Back in the 1990’s it became an annual tradition to make the trip from the Roanoke-Chowan area to Chapel Hill on the second weekend of December to catch all the action of the NCHSAA football state championships. Prior to state officials opting to switch over to what is today eight championship games played at three different sites, back then there were four champs crowned – one on Friday night, and three on Saturday with all games played at UNC’s Kenan Stadium.
Typically, that trip included Coach Cooke, always behind the wheel, current day Athletic Director and former Bertie High School baseball coach Randy Whitaker, current day Bertie Ledger-Advance Editor Thadd White, and yours truly. We saw that trip as a way to enjoy the end of our annual involvement with prep football. On two occasions (1995 and 2000), it was a working weekend with the Bertie Falcons advancing to the championship game, winning both.
The memories of those fun-filled weekends – to include the famous “merge” – came flooding back early Saturday afternoon when Thadd called to share some sad news – Coach Cooke had passed away. He was 71 years young.
I was aware that “Cookie” (as so many who knew and loved Ron would call him) was in failing health. I had talked to Randy at the News-Herald Holiday Classic back in December to get an update on the Coach. Randy said Cookie wasn’t doing well, and had spent some time in the hospital over the holidays. None of that info prepared me for the news shared Saturday.
By the time I became Sports Editor of this newspaper in 1989, Cookie had completed his run as head football coach at Bertie (1985-87). Counting his time before and after holding that particular job, he served 20 years as an assistant football coach, to include Defensive Coordinator. He also taught drafting at Bertie for a number of years.
I got to know Cookie better during his time as Bertie’s baseball coach. We would spend time chatting in the dugout after games….often times those conversations were more about local, state and national news and not just centered on baseball. But it was always clear of the love Cookie had for those who wore a Bertie jersey….in any sport. He didn’t make them better athletes through his coaching skills; rather, he made them better members of society.
Even after he retired from Bertie High, Cookie remained loyal to the boys and girls in blue. He also gave back to the local community by becoming a volunteer coach for a flag football team for 6-8 year-olds in the county….thus beginning the process of preparing the next generation of Falcons football. The 2005 team coached by Cookie and Bobby Harmon won the regional championship by beating a pair of Edenton teams in the playoffs.
My condolences go out to Cookie’s family. You can be proud of the fact that he made so many winners in life, both on and off the field.
Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7207.