By Moses Leos III
Having played and coached tennis at what was Southwest Texas State 30 years ago, Debbie Cook was used to a high level program.
She realized very quickly how different the situation was when she first stepped on the campus of Hays High School.
“I went from a high level program to a team that I had to go to PE classes to get kids to play,” Cook said.
But through it all, Cook learned how life lessons learned from the game triumphed over wins and losses. It’s that reason why Hays High School Thursday officially dedicated the school’s tennis courts to be named her.
Taking what she learned not only on the courts, but in life, continues to drive Cook.
“It’s so nice that the courts will have my name on it,” Cook said. “Kids who have played before, and even the kids who play now, will kind of remember what the program was about.”
Cook said she learned of the honor during the last faculty meeting she attended prior to her retirement last May.
Leading the charge on bestowing Cook’s name on the courts were teachers David Bowe, Josh Harper and girls athletic coordinator Danny Preuss.
According to Cook, the three were devising a way to give her the honor prior to her retirement.
But life intervened after Cook became one of many victims of the Memorial Day flood.
She left her home on May 23 when reports warned of a “40 foot wall of water,” Cook said.
When she returned, she found nearly everything in the home was lost.
“First, you know, there’s the shock,” Cook said. “You lost all of the stuff you have. There’s no way to save it. I just left.”
Cook eventually went through her home and attempted to salvage what she could. She said she lost photos and items that belonged to her parents. Also lost were photos from her SWT tennis days.
The event also forced Cook to halt her post-retirement plans, which involved working in her woodshop, traveling and working as a substitute teacher.
“Since the May flood, I’ve had to hold off on my plan,” she said.
Despite the setbacks, Cook continued to push forward. She realized that people can’t control the unknown in their lives.
“I had no control over that,” she said. “Nobody was happy about it. I was mad, but I can’t let that drive me. It doesn’t make the situation any better.”
In the aftermath of the flood, current and former students and faculty members came together in rebuilding.
It began the Monday after the Memorial Day flood when 20 members of her church arrived to help with cleanup.
Soon, fellow teacher Kerri Espinoza and the Hays Leo Club, along with members of the Hays High football team helped Cook. Joining them was Preuss, who joined other teachers from different groups to help her get back on her feet.
“In those instances, it takes so much off of your mind when you have people cleaning rooms and tearing the carpet,” Cook said. “I just directed. I was so blessed to have the community to help. It’s so amazing.”
It was the same group which banded together to help Cook when her home was inundated with water again during the Oct. 30 flood.
Last Thursday Cook attended the dedication ceremony, when she got the chance to interact with many of her former students.
For Cook, the theme of working hard, having fun, but also persevering were ideals Cook continues to hold dear.
Those were the building blocks of her program, where she said she “never told a kid they couldn’t play.”
“It’s not about winning, it’s about the life lessons – that hard work, integrity and sportsmanship and getting along with people in adverse times can apply to life,” she said. “I hope people look at that and say, ‘that’s what Coach Cook was about.’”