June's MVP: Bob Cooke

Upwardly Mobile Coach

Bob Cooke stresses values and sportsmanshipIt’s no surprise that St. Andrew By-The-Sea United Methodist Church’s Upward sports program is so popular. In fact, it’s tripled in size in the last two years, and that has a lot to do with coach Bob Cooke.

“It’s one of the largest faith-based, youthsports programs, with guidelines that help with coaching,” Cooke said of Upward, which is part of a national program with more than 750,000 kids across the country. “The key piece of Upward is being out there with the kids, making sure they hear a consistent message.”

The message goes beyond mere sportsmanship. Cooke is known for creating a program geared toward positive values, which makes the kids feel good while producing the most out of every player, he said.

“Everyone gets full play time, matched to skills levels. So, it’s easy to score, and that builds confidence,” Cooke said. “The kids just blossom.”

As it turns out, Cooke knows quite a bit about success. Before relocating to the Lowcountry, he served as CEO of Concept Information Systems. He sold the company during the dot-com peak to PricewaterhouseCoopers, and he stayed on as partner before retiring at only 39, when he decided to take up tennis. The Cooke family — including wife, Kerri, and their three children — moved to Florida for his training. Cooke was ranked No. 31 in the country in men’s 40s, and he later joined Van Der Meer Tennis Academy as the director of fitness.

Passion for sports and healthy competition are traits he works to instill in young players. And it’s a message well received. The growth of the Upward program makes that clear. In particular, its summer camp, which offers basketball, soccer, cheering and volleyball, attracted more than 200 children last year with 300 expected to participate this summer.

“Our program has grown by a great amount under Bob’s leadership,” said Mike Rogers, chairman of the church council. “We are only limited by the space we have.” Kim Likins, a local author, said Cooke’s life lessons have touched her family’s life.

“Nowadays, we give kids accolades for everything, when the reality is being the best is awards impossible,” said Likins, whose son, Alex, played Upward basketball. “What are we instilling in this generation of children? Will they give up if they can’t always be the best? That’s what I love about Upward, every child is made to feel valuable.”

For Cooke, working with children is rewarding in itself.

“I do this because I love children and find nothing more important in this world than seeing a child happy and growing in confidence, both spiritually and skillfully,” he said.

If it wasn’t for an anonymous letter sent to Hilton Head Monthly Magazine with 18 names and phone numbers of sources listed at the bottom, Cooke’s story may not have been told.

“We love Coach Bob and we are inspired with his mission to teach children to love and respect each other while achieving greatness in sports,” the letter reads. “And when I say ‘we,’ I mean, literally, hundreds of families that know and love this coach’s mission.”

Now that’s the definition of most valuable player.