Longtime Mira Costa athletic trainer Tim Cooper passes
by Randy Angel
During the University of Hawaii football game at Brigham Young University last Saturday, Hawaii linebacker and Mira Costa High alumnus Jahlani Tavai wore Tim Cooper’s name on his right sleeve.
“I found out just before the game that Tim had died. He was one of my mentors in high school, one of the greatest guys I ever meet, He taught me a lot,” Tavai said. “I took that with me when I stepped on the field.”
Tavai recorded a game-high 11 tackles in the Warrior’s 49-23 loss.
On Monday, the flags at Mira Costa were flown at half mast in honor of the Mustang’s athletic trainer of nearly 30 years.
“This past Saturday we lost a friend, family member, and colleague to cancer,” Principal Ben Dale said in a statement to the Mira Costa staff. “Tim was just 53 years old. It is a devastating loss for the Costa family.”
After being diagnosed with cancer about a year ago, Cooper maintained a positive, inspiring attitude through numerous rounds of surgery and chemotherapy.
He joined the Mira Costa athletic staff in 1988 and quickly established himself as a specialist in strength training and sports psychology, in addition to diagnosing injuries and helping thousands of students through rehab.
He also helped teachers and administrators with their injuries.
“He worked with me on chronic back pain, shoulder injuries, and broken ribs, and was the first to diagnose my torn meniscus, which later required surgery. Ask anyone who has worked or played here, and they will have a similar story. He didn’t just work on you. He got to know you as a person. He had a way of making you feel you were his best friend. Everyone you talk to, who knew him even a little, will tell you that he was their close friend.”
Following graduation from Torrance High School in 1983, where he starred in baseball and basketball, Cooper studied to be an athletic trainer at Cal State Dominguez Hills. In 1988, a young basketball coach named Glenn Marx brought him in to work with his Costa players. Then he was quickly picked by Vice Principal Herb Hinsche to be the Mustangs’ full-time trainer.
Cooper’s innovative programs included aquatic and dry land plyometric strength training. His aquatic workouts were a favorite conditioning program of Mira Costa and Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Eric Fonoimoana. He also worked with other volleyball Olympians and NBA players and trained dozens of future athletic trainers.
“He was there for all of our kids in all the sports, year after year,” Mira Costa head football coach Don Morrow said. “His training ideas were state of the art and many great athletes sought him out for his expertise. I can honestly say I have never heard someone from our school or from any area school say something negative about him. He treated everyone with respect and consideration. He was there for our alumni, our staff and our administration, as well. He was a true Mustang, an original.”
“Tim Cooper bled green and gold,” Mira Costa girls soccer coach Patty Perkinson said. “I had the pleasure of knowing Tim as a friend and colleague for 30 years. He had the ability to make everyone feel special because he cared so much and wanted all the athletes to excel.”
Former Mira Costa wrestler JP Cordero frequently sought Cooper’s help.
“I met Tim in that little closet of a training office the first time I injured my knee in wrestling in ’96,” JP Cordero said. “He used Costa Green pre-wrap, taped me up, and gave me a great list of rehab exercises. Through the next four years I was in his office almost daily getting taped. His love and commitment to our health, as students, was unparallelled.”
Former Mira Costa volleyball player and 1992 MVP Cam Green, who is now the girls coach, was among those shocked when he heard the news about Cooper.
“I thought he was coming around,” Green said. “You couldn’t find a better person than Tim. He cared so much about the athletes and did more than just tape ankles. As a player, I could spill my guts to him. He truly was a special person.”
Mustang girls basketball coach John Lapham said Cooper’s office was often the first stop former athletes made when they returned to campus.
“I’ve known Tim for about eight years, and always thought of him as the consummate professional,” Lapham said. “He was really good at the day-to-day parts of his job: everything from taping ankles to helping diagnose injuries and getting the athlete back on the road to recovery. And he was very talented at physical conditioning for athletes from all sports. His summer workout sessions were incredibly popular, even with athletes from other schools.”
“He never let his cancer get him down in front of the athletes. He showed tremendous poise and grace under pressure.”
Mira Costa boys soccer coach Gary Smith felt Cooper emulated the pride of being a Mustang.
“After 25 years coaching boys’ soccer, it felt like Tim was just part of our program,” Smith said. “He obviously was the go to guy for players when they were injured, but his presence on the sideline at our games just made things feel more professional. To have a big, strong, confident and caring man in Tim there supporting us made the players even more proud of their school. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said ‘go see Tim’… I just wish I could now. He will be missed so much every day.”
Cooper is survived by his step-daughter Ashley Stamm and his granddaughter Lily.
A green and gold memorial service and celebration of Cooper’s life is set for Saturday, Oct. 27 at 2 p.m. at Mira Costa High School.