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FLASHBACK: Jim Cooper - the greatest lover of football - Odessa American: Celinda Hawkins

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FLASHBACK: Jim Cooper - the greatest lover of football

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Posted: Sunday, April 13, 2014 7:00 am

The truest words about Jim Cooper, former coach, educator and football announcer in Odessa, may have been written in his high school yearbook more than 70 years ago next to his photo: “The greatest lover of football in the world.”

On Saturday, Jim Cooper was honored posthumously and inducted in to the University of North Texas Athletic Hall of Fame. Jim was one of the five UNT inductees.

His wife, Helen Cooper, daughter Carla Cooper McGinley, son Craig Cooper and granddaughter Brooklyn Cooper were there when the honor was bestowed yesterday

During the luncheon Saturday, Craig Cooper, who was a track star at Permian, spoke about his father, who was celebrated as a football player, coach and teacher. He said his father was positively impacted by his own involvement in athletics and education.

“Because he understood the rewards, my dad’s passion for athletics and education was clear in both his personal participation as well as his encouragement of others,” Craig wrote.

Cooper, who died in 2010 at the age of 86, will be honored by the university for as part of the North Texas Eleven, a team that included Cooper, Billy Dinkle and Felton Whitlow and were placed in the All-Lone Star Conference team from 1946 and 1947.

He had a lot of honors and was on the team when UNT won the Optimist Bowl in 1946. He was the first North Texas football player to be drafted by the NFL In April of 2013 he was selected as a finalist for the North Texas All-Century Team as an offensive lineman in 1946-47.

It all started in Colorado City, where Jim began his football career, and he helped take the 1940 team to the 6A All District Championship as a guard. His football career took a detour because of World War II, but he was back, realizing his dream of playing college football when he signed on at Texas Christian University, where he was a star football player from 1944-45. UNT recruited Jim from TCU and offered him a scholarship.

Cooper’s play at North Texas didn’t go unnoticed and following his senior season (1947) he was drafted by five different teams (Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills and the Brooklyn Dodgers).

Cooper chose the Dodgers of the All-American Football Conference and played in the organization’s final season. He then left professional football and began to put the degree earned at North Texas (bachelor of science in physical education) to use and headed to Odessa, where he began work as a coach at Bowie Junior High.

Hired by Odessa High football coach Cooper Robbins to coach at Bowie, Jim Cooper was reunited with Harry Mullens, who also had gone to TCU. Bowie principal Kellus Turner, another TCU alum, also was there at the time, and with the three former Horned Frogs in the program, it became fairly simple to find a nickname for the school.

After heading off for a coaching stint in Anchorage, Alaska, he and wife Helen returned to Odessa, where he began work as the driver’s ed instructor at Permian. She was a teacher and counselor at Bonham.

She said her husband never bragged about his achievements. In fact, it was years before she really knew how big of a college football star he was. She found books and memorabilia at his mother’s house one day.  

Helen said Jim was a true example of perseverance and dedication, because he had to push himself to achieve. He did not have the support of his family so much.

“He showed, with hard work, you can achieve great things,” she said.

Like hundreds, if not thousands of other students, I had Mr. Cooper at Permian for drivers ed. He ran the simulator and he was really a funny guy and he taught with humor and obvious dedication. And most likely, if you were anywhere near high school football during the 13 years that Jim was with ECISD, you heard his voice over the PA system at W.T. Barrett Stadium, where he announced the high school games.

Many of his former colleagues, friends and students reached out to UNT to recommend Jim for the honor.

His fellow driver’s ed instructor, Tommy Warner, said the program could not have functioned without him.

“He taught with a sense of humor that kept their (students) attention and you could tell they enjoyed the classes with him,” Warner wrote.

Charles “Charlie” Hostetter, was one of his students wrote: “Mr. Cooper was such a gentle, loving man. I kept in touch with him through the years. He definitely made an impact on my life. I am blessed to have known him.”

Odessa, TX

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