In what’s been touted as one of the best classes in the history of the Panhandle Sports Hall of Fame, it’s no surprise that a pair of inductees are making PSHOF history this weekend.
For the first time, a parent and their offspring will go in together as part of the same induction class, albeit from far different sports and backgrounds. Former West Texas A&M and Wayland Baptist men’s basketball coach Rick Cooper will be inductee No. 198 and his daughter, Amarillo High volleyball star Kori Cooper Clements, will follow him as inductee No. 199.
That’s the highlight of a stellar class which includes inductee No. 197 Fred Cooper (no relation to Rick or Kori), a runner from Stinnett and the University of Texas; No. 200 Evander “Ziggy” Hood, a Palo Duro graduate and former NFL player; and No. 201 Chris Koetting, recently retired Canadian football coach. They will all be inducted during the PSHOF 65th annual ceremony Sunday.
For Rick Cooper, age would seem to have its privileges. He’s going to be officially inducted before his daughter.
“I’m not bragging about anything on that,” Cooper said with a laugh. “I’m just honored to be here.”
Cooper was a fixture on the sidelines at WT for two decades from 1993-2013. He came to Canyon from Wayland, where he had also played, and became the winningest coach in school history, posting a 394-145 record, including four Lone Star Conference titles, an appearance in the NCAA Elite Eight and six LSC coach of the year honors.
The PSHOF honor is a fitting conclusion of the journey Cooper took from his native West Virginia when he went to Wayland to play basketball in the late 1970s.
“Longevity has its benefits I guess, and I did have the opportunity to serve in multiple roles,” said Cooper, who was also and athletic director at Wayland and served the last two seasons as the top assistant to Mark Adams at Texas Tech. “I had the chance to see it from a lot of different viewpoints. I had a chance to work with and for a whole bunch of really good people. That made it all special along the way.”
However, that probably wasn’t as special as getting a hall of fame honor the same day as his daughter.
“It’s especially special to be going in with Kori,” Cooper said. “You can imagine how proud that makes us to have her and I go into this incredible hall together.”
While Rick was enjoying success at WT, Kori was continuing the championship tradition for the Amarillo High volleyball program. She was an all-state player over three seasons for the Lady Sandies and one of the top volleyball players in the legendary history of the Panhandle in the sport.
Cooper Clements signed with Nebraska’s legendary program after graduating from AHS and immediately made an impact in College. She became the starting middle blocker as a freshman in 2006 and helped lead the team to a national championship.
Kori was a two-time All-Big 12 selection and an academic All-American, and eventually enjoyed a brief but successful coaching career, including one year at Amarillo High.
“I don’t know that it’s ever really going to sink in,” Cooper Clements said. “The kind of career I had; I lived the dream. When I think back on my career, it still kind of feels like it was somebody else. It’s kind of surreal that I got to do that.
“I was really fortunate that I got to play for some great coaches and play with some great athletes. To just be part of a culture like Amarillo High and Nebraska, those programs just have such high standards, and the product of those programs is always so great.”
Cooper Clements played for another PSHOF inductee at Amarillo High, legendary coach Jan Barker, who will also be present at her induction. What gives even more meaning to Kori’s induction is following her father.
“You can’t even really put it into words,” Cooper Clements said. “There’s no bigger fan of my dad than me. He’s always been a champion for me. I think the most important thing my dad did for me in my career is he sat me down and said, ‘What are you going to do when you get up there and you don’t get to play?’ That perspective really put me in the right place to go up there and know what I was working for.”
Rick said he always knew Kori could be a good athlete from the time she was about five, but that when she jammed her finger playing basketball, he knew volleyball would be her preferred sport.
Kori’s mother Janie was also a stellar athlete herself, so success was in her genes, and her brother Tyler also was a standout basketball player for Rick at WT. Rick knew that Kori made the right choice with volleyball.
“When she started getting into the Junior Nationals and those kinds of things it was apparent, she had some future there,” Rick said of Kori. “I was very much a bit player in that. Her mom drove her to practices, and when I say practices, I mean like from Amarillo to Colorado. I didn’t do much but watch and clap quite a bit.”
It was only natural that Kori follow an athletic path considering what she was surrounded with growing up, and she thinks she had no other choice.
“My mom was a fantastic athlete who played basketball at Texas and at Wayland,” Kori said. “She graduated from high school and was trying to decide if she wanted to play field hockey at Stanford or basketball at Texas. It was really a huge part of both my brother and I being involved in athletics. We grew up in a gym.”
The legacy of Rick Cooper’s offspring has gone well beyond the gym. Kori is a speech pathologist at Canyon ISD and is pursuing a doctorate, and Tyler is an orthopedic surgeon.
Rick Cooper’s gym legacy, though, extends beyond his family. Two of his former players, Jason Pillion and Steve Jackson, have been longtime successful coaches at Amarillo ISD for Amarillo High and Tascosa respectively.
While Cooper has been gone from the WT sidelines for a decade, the program has still prospered under the direction of Tom Brown, including an appearance in a national championship game. Cooper is typically self-deprecating about that success.
“If you look at the success that coach Brown’s had there, one of the best things I did was resign,” cracked Cooper. “It’s been incredible to watch that. I had a great run at WT. If you were around in 1993, it was a little bit of a different animal in those days, but it’s been fun to watch the progression and I have incredible memories of the people I got to work with.”