PADEN CITY — Former three-sport Paden City High School standout Luke Cooper is full speed ahead when it comes to the next chapter of his life.
Going from the proverbial big man on campus as a Wildcat to a baseball player at West Liberty University, Cooper wasn’t able to have the exact career he had envisioned for the Hilltoppers due to injury.
However, he just graduated with his degree in secondary education, which included a minor in geography.
Like all other spring sports athletes, Cooper isn’t going to forget how things came to an abrupt end.
“It was the middle of a baseball practice and coach (Eric) Burkle told us to come in here,” recalled Cooper of when his skipper told them “just a fair warning. West Virginia Wesleyan just canceled their season due to COVID-19.
“We’re looking if one school closes it’s eventually all going to go down. We went through the practice and went to Buffalo Wild Wings as a team that night and we saw on Twitter that all spring sports were canceled.”
Aside from the baseball aspect, where Cooper was ready to pitch in relief whenever needed, his studies also became more challenging.
Even though he was able to do the first part of his student teaching at Brooke Middle School, he was unable to do the same the second half of the semester at Brooke High School.
“We did Zoom meetings about four days a week and had three or four sessions a day and the state gave us a one year temporary teaching license,” Cooper said. “All the testing centers to take your finals and test, they closed down.
“That gave you a year to take it. I’ve rescheduled it three times. Usually I take them in Morgantown, but I’m going to take it in Charleston because Morgantown isn’t open yet. I’m heading on June 11 to take my last test.”
While he’s happy to have finished his degree, not being able to compete with his teammates through the spring has been tough.
“Health-wise I feel OK,” Cooper responded when asked how the mental aspect of life was going. “It was kind of hard, you know, going through and playing baseball from so little and sticking it out for four years at West Liberty and being around those teammates for four years.
“Abruptly one day at practice it’s over. You never got a feeling of closure. Closure for my baseball career and calling it done and it all happened in an hour at Buffalo Wild Wings. That was kind of hard to deal with. I’ve been staying in contact with those people.”
Another person he’s stayed in close contact with is fiance Emily Patterson, a Magnolia graduate who now teaches science at the school in New Martinsville.
“She’s a Wetzel County kid,” said Cooper, who noted they had been together for three and a half years and are expecting a baby boy, but haven’t settled on a name.
“We’re still in that second stage of kind of arguing. I had what I thought was the perfect name (Joseph Ace) and she didn’t necessarily agree.”
Coming from a small school didn’t prove to be any sort of disadvantage for Cooper, who finished with cum laude honors.
“I can’t thank Paden City High School enough,” Cooper added. “They put me down the path that allowed me to get to West Liberty University. It was a huge transition. Big fish in a little pond into a little fish in a big pond. It’s like joining an all-star team, but some of them are 23 years old and fifth-year seniors. It was a crazy change from my freshman year.
“I just tried to work my tail off for four years. I got to make some friendships and things I’ll never forget. The transition between high school and college is crazy. There were times where I would miss Paden City and that feeling of getting to kind of be the big man on campus. That’s something you take for granted when you are there, but you realize it’s not like that somewhere else.”
Cooper and his future better half recently bought a house in Paden City.
Admittedly, the now ex-Hilltopper at some point in the future said he’d like to be a head coach for the Wildcats.
“I’d like to get into a coaching career,” he said. “I don’t want to write anything in the script. I don’t know so much about head coaching. I’d like to be an assistant baseball, basketball, football coach to help.
“We’re expecting in October and I don’t want to be strapped down to a head coach job. That doesn’t mean I won’t take one, but with obligations to the little one on the way for the first couple of years I’d like to help out. I don’t know if I would take a full-time position.”
Current John Marshall High School head baseball coach Mark Cisar was the pitching coach who recruited Cooper to WLU.
Having a loaded roster when he arrived, Cooper opted to redshirt as a freshman and attempt to learn all he could while watching.
When year two rolled round, Cooper continued to battle injury.
“I knew I was going to graduate in four years whether I redshirted or not,” Cooper continued. “I knew I was on track to graduate. When I graduated I was done with baseball.”
Cooper said having surgery was an option, but he opted not to go that route and concentrate on a relief roll.
“I was ready to come out of the bullpen this coming season, but due to COVID-19 it didn’t work out,” said Cooper, who gave high praise to the coaching staff for increasing his baseball knowledge.
“They told me I could have surgery, but I was going to be slinged up for six months. I had one year left. For me to have to sit for six months, I wasn’t messing with that.”
Another factor in his decision was the success rate for the surgery was 65%.
The ride for the ex-Wildcat definitely hasn’t been without its challenges since he left Paden City.
“There’s not a single teacher I had four years ago,” Cooper said of the high school. “They all retired. It’s crazy and hard to believe at one point in time they fought to keep this school open and the teachers all rallied together. It’s a turned page now.
“A lot of young teachers in here, but in my opinion the young teachers care just as much as the older generation. I think Paden City is valuable to Wetzel County. I think the young teachers in this building that filled in for the veterans, I think this young group will do the same if that time ever comes.”
Like everyone else who comes from Paden City, Cooper exudes “that sense of pride that came with people like Fred King, Brent Croasmun, Jeff Bowers and people like that.”
Earning his degree with honors is something Cooper gives full credit to his alma mater for.
“I was able to fulfill a dream of mine I’ve had since probably I was 10, to say I was a college baseball player,” he added. “I was able to fill out that dream.
“My career didn’t necessarily take the turn I wanted to and I didn’t get to be that big-time player at West Liberty, but I wouldn’t change what happened for nothing. The coaching staff and players, I met some amazing people and I’ll get to carry that no matter what.”
Contact Jay Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org