Story by Tamas Mondovics
“Best season ever, best team ever,” said East Bay High School girls flag football coach Michael Cooper as he reflected on the 2017 spring season, which ended with the program posting its 100th win in 11 years, and by winning the school’s sixth flag football district championship.
Cooper didn’t want to disparage his former teams when he added, “I’ve had great teams, I’ve had great players, I’ve had passionate players and I’ve had leaders. But I’ve never had a team like 2017.”
Cooper’s praise of his players came after an emotional announcement, informing his team that this was his last season.
“I need to take the burden my coaching puts on my wife, Diane, who is everything to me,” Cooper said. “And to spend more time with my only child and daughter, Katie, to mentor her and spend time with her as I’ve done over the years with other people’s daughters. These parents put their trust in me to lead, coach and guide.”
Players who stood out over the years include, Stephanie Williams, Madeline Hornacek, Dasia Daniels, Nicole Lock, Michelle Rodriguez and Akeila Brown, just to name a few.
“We’ve played some tough teams over the years, some teams perhaps tougher than we played this year,” Cooper said. “But this game has morphed and changed. With so many passionate coaches and outstanding athletes now, I don’t believe we have ever faced the challenges of each game and each and team, like this year.”
Cooper believes that there are other coaches who have better knowledge of the game but that his strength lies in motivating his players.
“These girls played above and beyond their abilities because they believed in their teammates and me and for that I am forever grateful.”
In the 11 year history of the sport in Hillsborough County, East Bay made every district tournament. Only four schools in the county can claim it including East Bay, Plant City, Plant, and Robinson. East Bay played in nine district champion games, two more than any other team in the county: Alonso 7, Durant 7, Plant 7, Plant City 7, Robinson 7, Bloomingdale 6.
Under Coopers direction, the Indians won six district championships. Only three schools have done this in the county: East Bay, Robinson and Plant City and only three coaches Cooper, Josh Saunders and Larry Langston.
Since the first season East Bay, won 101 games. Only 3 coaches can claim more than 100 wins in the county: Josh Saunders of Robinson 134, Matt Hernandez of Alonso 106 and Cooper of East Bay 101.
One more Cooper can claim since the school opened in 1957. Only three teams have won six district championships among them the current softball coach, Glenn Rodriguez, who holds the distinction of winning the schools only State Championship in school history (2010). Rodriguez won six district championships in 20 years.
As expected, Cooper’s decision to call it quits did not come easy.
“I’ve been thinking about leaving the game since 2013,” he said, but added, “I couldn’t do it knowing that I wasn’t giving my best effort. I constantly processed the decision and as the season began, I made up my mind. I second guessed myself often, but after we beat Bloomingdale in the regular season, something I didn’t do in six tries over three years, I decided, “Yes, vindication.”
Cooper’s team did not just beat Bloomingdale but finished district play at 7-0, something no team in the county has ever done.
“My first district championship was in 2008, a 1-OT win against Riverview and my last district championship game, a 2-OT win against Bloomingdale,” Cooper said. “I am very proud of all my teams who have given me so many wonderful memories. I thank you all, I love you all and I am proud that I had the honor to coach you all.”
Great job Coach…we will miss you.
For more about East Bay girls flag football, visit ebhsgirlsflagfootball.com.