Published 8:05 am Thursday, January 29, 2015
WINDSOR – One year after the untimely deaths of a trio of high school athletic leaders, the Roanoke-Chowan area is mourning another loss of a legendary coach.
Former Bertie High coach Ron Cooke passed away at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville last weekend following an illness. He was 71.
His death comes on the heels of the passing of three legendary local coaches in 2014 – Daryl Allen and Richard Murray, both of Ahoskie, and Diego Hasty, formerly of Faisons Old Tavern in Northampton County.
Cooke served the Falcons as head coach in a trio of capacities: varsity football, baseball, and varsity girl’s basketball. He was also an assistant football coach and served for a time as the school’s athletic director and later coached at East Wake High School.
As an assistant under Chip Williams in the early eighties, Cooke was credited with a 1982 Falcon defense that accounted for seven shutouts, five during an unbeaten run to the 3A Northeastern Conference championship and two of them in the post-season. Bertie went to the state championship that same year, but fell to an undefeated Brevard team. That ’82 defense surrendered only 65 points all season, an amazing stat at that time, especially for a rural school.
Cooke succeeded Williams as head coach in 1984 but never tasted the same success as his predecessor, having his best season his first year at the helm when the Falcons went 7-3 but lost the eventual league championship to Tarboro. It was Bertie’s last season in the nine-team Northeastern Conference. A pair of sub-500 seasons followed with records of 2-8 in ’85 (the Falcons’ first year in the then-new 3A Tar Roanoke Conference) and a 3-8 mark in ’86. The following year Cooke surrendered the head football coaching reins to Bill Hawkins so Cooke could concentrate on baseball.
Current Bertie Athletic Director and long-time Falcons baseball coach Randy Whitaker knew Cooke as both a student at the Windsor school as well as when Whitaker first broke into coaching out of East Carolina University.
“Coach Cooke was not only a mentor to me, but a lifelong friend,” Whitaker said. “I learned a lot of the things I know today because of him. He took the time when I got into coaching to show me the right way to do things. Over the years there is no telling how many games we went to because every one of them was always a teaching moment. Coach Cooke will be greatly missed.”
Among Cooke’s many trips were ones to summer coaches clinics, but the one dearest to him were ones he took with his student-athletes on official and unofficial visits to college. Some of these same kids were visiting a college campus for the very first time in their lives.
“One of the things that I definitely admired about Ron was his precision,” said former coach Barry McGlone, now a Bertie County School Board member, but who played for Cooke and coached alongside him as an assistant. “We would sometimes watch tapes over and over again because he was always looking for things about a particular player or a team would do. He actually was the one who taught me about scouting.
“When I learned things from Coach Cooke, I would try to put everything into a game – even when a kid would leave the bench and get a drink of water – that’s what I learned. He was always looking at the little things that he picked up from some of the clinics that he always attended. It helped Bertie to eventually develop one of the best defensive secondary’s, I think, not just in the state, but maybe in the country featuring guys like Dee Dee Hoggard and Stanley Pugh who went on to play pro ball.
“When I became his defensive coordinator in the early 80’s, I learned a lot of defense from Coach Cooke and a lot of my offense from Chip Williams. I had three good opportunities to learn; first from two of the best along with Coach Roy Bond,” McGlone concluded.
Funeral services for Cooke took place yesterday (Wednesday) at Walker Funeral Home Chapel in Windsor.
Cooke is survived by a son, Ronald Douglas Cooke and wife, Heather; along with three grandchildren, all of whom reside in Cary. Cooke is buried at the Roxobel-Kelford Cemetery.