NEW PALESTINE — When Jeff Wright and Melissa Tillage accepted their positions to become the assistant athletics directors and administrative office assistants at New Palestine High School, they sat down with Al Cooper, the man in charge.
There were a couple of things they both noticed right away about their boss.
Cooper, 56, is organized and means business when it comes to molding, educating and leading over 500 student-athletes and their coaches.
“When we sat down with him, he had a list of over 40 different categories this department touches,” Wright said. “I had no idea it was so much.”
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Everything from scheduling games to making sure structures are safe, Cooper is the king of multitasking. He’s finishing up his sixth year as the school’s athletics director, and it’s been a special year.
Cooper recently was awarded the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, District 4, Athletic Director of the Year, by his peers. The group’s mission is to provide a multitude of quality opportunities for Indiana student-athletes, according to their website, IIAAA.org.
Dan Walker, a school board member, had Cooper as a teacher at New Palestine and on the field as his baseball coach. He said the award was well deserved.
“He’s such a great representative of our district,” Walker said. “He’s more than a teacher and a coach.”
While Cooper was glad to accept the award, he’s already moved well passed it.
His job, one that sometimes requires over 70 hours a week, is more than simply scheduling games. Cooper and his staff work behind the scenes helping guide their coaches, finding sponsorship for programs, interacting with community leaders and mostly, developing young athletes into solid citizens.
“We’ve always been highly committed to developing high character and high class,” Cooper said. “That’s what we stand for and I adhere to that.”
The hardest thing for Cooper being an athletic director is finding the time to get to the know the athletes representing the school, like he used to as a former baseball and basketball coach.
“It’s the part I miss the most about coaching or teaching in the classroom, building those relationships and getting to know kids,” Cooper said.
He’s created a Leadership Program for the athletes to take part in through the IHSAA. It includes implementing a Student Council for Athletic Leadership in Education (SCALE) endeavor, giving athletes a chance to step up and do more in their community.
Having the program allows Cooper to mentor athletes, lead, encourage and teach students, something all true educators love to do, he said.
Cooper is also a former athlete and brings a huge understanding to the job Wright said.
“He knows what the coaches need and go through as well as seeing it from the athletic side,” Wright said.
Wright helps Cooper manage the facilities and generate financial support for the program throughout the community.
With the addition of Wright this year and Tillage’s help in the office over the past 15 months, Cooper said the department now has the chance to not only manage the daily tasks but can also help educate both students and coaches.
The three-person staff prides themselves for staying on top of changes, getting to students, parents and staff faster, all things Cooper wants in order to run the department properly.
They never sit still for long, Cooper said and are always looking for ways to help the teams compete at their highest level on and off the field.
Tillage has the responsibility of helping Cooper get things organized and keeping track of her boss, something easier said than done.
“He’s just always on the go,” she said. “He’s got so much in that head of his, you don’t really know what’s going to come out next with different projects and things we’re working on.”