NEW PALESTINE — After 39 years in education, 37 at his alma mater, New Palestine athletic director Al Cooper announced his retirement Tuesday.
Cooper, a 1979 graduate of NPHS, has been the school’s athletic director the last 13 years. Prior to becoming the AD, he was a successful coach at the school. He spent 17 seasons, from 1988-2005, as the girls basketball coach, winning 228 games and four sectional titles.
As the school’s baseball coach, for 10 seasons, he led the Dragons to a state title in 2004. They were state runners-up in 2003.
“I’m 62 and I just felt like it’s time to slow down,” Cooper said. “I’m going to miss the kids and the coaches, and they still mean the world to me, but when you have young grand-kids and family you want to slow down and do some things. It’s hard to do when you’re on the grind and that’s what athletic directors have to do.
“It means all duties. There’s a lot to it and it just felt like the right time for me to step away.”
Cooper has had athletic success at every level. A standout athlete at New Pal, he went on to play baseball at Indiana Central, now the University of Indianapolis. He was recently inducted into the university’s athletics hall of fame.
The success on the sidelines with basketball and baseball carried over when he became the school’s athletic director.
Under Cooper’s leadership as AD, New Palestine athletics have won six team (football, softball) and six individual state championships (wrestling, boys track and field) in four different sports.
“He’s got a vision of what he wants our athletic programs to look like,” New Palestine head football coach Kyle Ralph, who has led the Dragons to three state titles, said. “I had no head coaching experience when he hired me. He took a huge gamble hiring a guy from a different state and a guy with no head coaching experience, but he must have seen something in me that fit the vision he wanted for our athletic program and our football program.
“That’s such an important thing when you’re going to be a leader in some capacity, especially when you’re a leader of a major athletics program, you have to have a tremendous vision. You can’t waiver on the execution of making sure that vision is followed. That goes with who you hire, how you oversee the programs, and how you handle your coaches. It’s not an easy job, dealing with parents, and having to stand behind your coaches, whether that’s a good or a bad thing at times.”
Most all current head coaches are Cooper hires and programs are all experiencing levels of success. Girls golf, football, boys basketball, gymnastics, boys swimming, and baseball have won sectional titles this year.
“I want to leave when I feel really, really good about New Palestine athletics. I don’t want to leave when I don’t feel good about it, so it feels like the right time for me,” Cooper said.
“That starts with his leadership,” New Palestine boys basketball coach and assistant athletic director Trent Whitaker said of the success up and down the line of New Palestine sports. “He took the athletic program to another level and instilled the athletic motto of Commitment, Character and Class. Everything he does he talks about those three things. It’s not just to the athletes but to the coaches. He makes sure we instill those things in our programs. He definitely epitomizes those values. I personally wouldn’t be where I am without his leadership and guidance.”
Cooper has been named an Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrator’s Association district AD of the year.
“For the most part for my 39 years, it’s never been a job,” Cooper added. “When you do something like that and you feel that way about it, I don’t want to overstay and make it feel like a job. There’s good days and bad days, and COVID was rotten, but for the most part you’re going to have more good days than bad days.”
Cooper said he will never close the door on future opportunities, but for now it’s time to spend time with family. He plans on being around New Pal athletics — you just don’t walk away from something that’s been a part of the majority of your life — but he’ll be a fan instead of the AD.
Cooper added that he’ll help transition the new hire until August.
“I’m proud to turn over a good program to another person, whoever that may be,” he said. “It’s a pretty good job for whoever’s next. Everything’s in place. There’s nothing broken.”