Clovis volunteer assistant coach Derico Cooper, who was himself a hurdler in college, has helped four Clovis hurdlers qualify for state this year. Photo by Eric Kluth
By Rick White
Derico Cooper paces near the starting line of the 300-meter hurdles, twirling a school-bus-bright yellow stopwatch around his finger.
With the blast from the starter’s pistol, seven hurdlers are off. And so is Cooper.
Jogging across the infield grass, the Clovis High volunteer assistant track coach follows his two runners in the race as carefully as a lioness does her cubs. By the time they reach the final turn, Cooper is waiting with shouts of encouragement.
The Wildcat runners falter down the stretch, and as a result, fail to qualify for the Class 5A state meet in the event. Cooper is disappointed but not discouraged. He knows firsthand how they feel.
A former college hurdler at High Point University in North Carolina, Cooper said he is giving back to a sport that gave him so much.
“I love track and I love kids,” said Cooper, a 26-year-old Atlanta native who moved to Clovis last year when his wife was transferred to Cannon Air Force Base. “If it wasn’t for a volunteer assistant, I wouldn’t have gotten a college scholarship.
“I was slow when I first started in high school and the coaches never took a chance on me.”
Cooper is a stronger believer that the lessons of discipline and desire learned on the track carry over to life.
“If you give up out here, what’s going to stop you from giving up when things get tough in life?” he said.
A physical education aide at Zia Elementary, Cooper has been a fixture at Clovis practices and meets ever since he called Clovis boys track coach Darren Kelley this spring to offer a hand.
Cooper’s knowledge and enthusiasm are a huge plus for the program, Kelley said. He also relates well to the student-athletes because of his relatively young age, Kelly added.
“The kids respect him and they know he knows what he’s talking about,” Kelley said. “And because of that, they listen to him.”
Kelley also applauds Cooper’s willingness to spend time with all the high school runners, not just the best ones.
Freshman Brian Mead is Cooper’s pet project, but he also has helped three other Clovis hurdlers qualify for state.
Mead doubts he would have qualified for state without the help of Cooper. Mead said by improving his technique, he’s shaved a second off his time in the 110-meter hurdles. He owns the sixth fastest time this season in Class 5A heading into Thursday’s preliminaries at state.
“He’s taught me a lot,” Mead said. “Not only will he tell you how to do something but he can go out there and show you how to do it.
“Plus he makes it fun, and because he’s closer to my age, he’s easier to talk to about stuff.”
With Cooper by his side, Mead is on track to become one of the state’s top hurdlers, and his coach is giving back to a sport that gave him so much.