David Cook never played fast pitch softball. He played baseball.
He did help coach a girls traveling softball team in Pendleton. Two of the girls on that team had a lot to do with Cook becoming a varsity softball coach. They helped plant the seed, so to speak.
They told him that there would be an opening at HSE. He said he really hadn’t thought about coaching high school softball until they mentioned such a possibility.
“I’ve truly enjoyed coaching girls softball, and I really thought that the sport was close to really taking off,” he said. “Back then, there was only the ASA (American Softball Association), but the sport exploded statewide (it’s been under the IHSAA umbrella since 1985). When I decided to apply at HSE, winning a state championship never entered my mind, or that maybe it could happen at Southeastern. I so enjoyed coaching and working with the girls, and I was just happy to have a chance to coach at Southeastern.”
Cook enters his Silver Anniversary season coaching the Lady Royals this spring. He’s already a legend. He’s won two state championships (2007 and 2010), something no other coach in Hamilton County has accomplished, and he needs only 21 victories to reach the 500-win milestone. Not only is he likely to get No. 500 this season, you can’t help but wonder when the school’s softball diamond will be named after David Cook.
Cook also has come a long way in the Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association, where he is an active member. He’s a regular voter on the Top 15 Voting Panel for Region 3 and a member of the Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
“A lot of memories?” Cook was asked. “Yes, many,” said Cook, a graduate of Pendleton Heights High School who earned a Physical Education degree from Ball State. “I’m blessed. I have great kids, strong parent involvement, tremendous facilities here, and a very supportive administration.
“And as far as coaching and winning, the fire still burns. I look forward to every season. This is what I do, what I love. I never have any thoughts of retirement. Winning never gets old, and helping prepare these kids for when they leave high school is important. I’m not just talking about whether they excel at the next level in softball; I mean helping them prepare, excel in life is what really is important.”
When he talks about his team, coaches, and everyone involved, he likes to think of it as one big family. He said that parents host some dinners during the season, and that the girls will go to breakfast as a team on occasion.
“We go to breakfast every prom, for sure. They love it. They need to do and think about something other than softball on that day. Certainly we don’t practice on prom day. You know, the girls need to do their nails and hair and get ready for their big night,” he said with a chuckle.
But getting back to his Silver Anniversary moment or season, here’s what Noblesville’s Mike Ramsey said about Cook: “Dave is a great competitor! I absolutely enjoy playing his teams as they are always well prepared and, year in year out, among the best in the state. Twenty-five years is a long time to do anything. The impact Dave has had on our sport and all the young lives he has mentored is really overwhelming. I think if there were a template for what a Hall of Fame coach looks like in any sport, Dave represents it. He has been as successful as any fast pitch coach in Indiana history in the win-loss column and holds 2 state championship titles. If his actions ended there, the story would be very impressive; but I don’t think many people realize how active coach Cook is behind the scenes as an advocate for his girls and our sport.”
Cook just smiles and shrugs his shoulders whenever Hall of Fame talk is mentioned. He’s not there yet, but he will be. His teams have won 20 or more games the past six years. The Lady Royals were 25-5 last year. He could also go over 500 career victories this season. He ranks fifth on the all-time list with 479 wins; he’s lost 178. He needs 1 more set championship to move into a second-place tie with New Palestine’s Ed Marcum.
“Not a goal – not something I spend time thinking about,” he said matter of factly about the Hall of Fame. “I don’t know what the criteria is, but I’m guessing you have to be nominated.”
One of Cook’s goals, though, is to keep on winning and doing things the right way when it comes to teaching, preparing, and leading his Lady Royals.
Said Center Grove’s Russ Milligan, a four-time state champion whose 590-74 won-loss record ranks atop the state coaching list: “Dave is a great coach and always has his girls well prepared. His love for the game and his love and commitment to the girls he coaches is evident in both his accomplishments and in his demeanor on the diamond.”
Cook is also the only coach to produce an unbeaten season en route to a state title when the tournament was single class, and now that feat still stands in Class 4A of Class Softball. His 2007 team, led by Miss Softball Morgan Melloh, went 31-0.
“Would we love to win another one this season? Yeah, that would be awesome,” he said. “But getting out of our sectional is not easy. This is just really a difficult sectional. That’s the first and most important. After that, we’d like to think the rest of the way might not always be as a difficult. Our conference (Hoosier Crossroads) and sectional, we feel, really does prepare you to advance in the state tournament.”
As far as the sectional goes, certainly Carmel, Noblesville, and Fishers, in particular, have been formidable foes; and Zionsville and Westfield should be stronger this season. Cook’s Lady Royals beat then-No. 1 Noblesville two years ago in the sectional, then lost to Fishers in a semifinal game, and Carmel went on to win state. Last year, the Lady Royals went extra innings, losing to Carmel 1-0 in 8 innings in the sectional final. “Like I said, nothing easy about our sectional,” he motioned with his hands while shaking his head with a sigh.
This year’s team could be very good. All three pitchers return in seniors Alyssa Buchanan and Amanda Winthrow and sophomore Maggie Armstrong, who’s coming off a tremendous freshman season where she posted a 2.08 ERA. She also plays shortstop. Winthrow was sort of thrown into the fire last year when Buchanan could not play because of elbow surgery in the offseason. Winthrow responded brilliantly by recording 150 strikeouts. Buchanan also pitched extremely well on the 2010 state championship team. Catching those three is Roni Patterson, a hard-nosed competitor with good speed and a strong arm who is a power-hitting lead-off batter.
“Our pitchers are good, very good. I won’t say they are the best, but I can’t believe there’s any team with three pitchers any better,” Cook said.
His competitive nature takes over off the field once in awhile when talking about the sport he loves – especially when he sees teams or hears of a team pop up on the internet that he might know nothing about yet that seems to have all these great statistics (oft times unrealistic numbers). “I’m not saying we can beat them; but if they’re that good, come on. I want to play them, and we’ll see what happens,” he said with a slight grin.
Cook’s conversation always comes back to his girls. “My assistants might say I’ve softened up over the years, but there’s still a lot of discipline in our program. At the same time kids need to have fun, and they need to know you are there for them and that you’ll always be there for them,” Cook said.
“Like I said, we’re trying to create a family atmosphere. As important as winning is, well, it’s not all about winning. We have a lot of smart, really smart, ladies. They have high GPA’s, some even over 4.0. We play a lot of games in a very short time, and it’s important that we provide balance in their daily schedules. That could mean ending practice early on occasion to give them time to hit the books. I can’t stress enough how important grades are.”
Assistant Coach Alison Strole said, “Back in the ‘90s when I played for him, his nickname was Mad Bear. Back then, he was very vocal, but it was also the way to motivate athletes. If he would yell at me, it got me fired up and I would pitch the ball harder. Now my nickname for him is Teddy Bear. It’s our running joke. I keep telling him he has become a big softy. However, though his coaching style may have changed over the years, one thing that has not changed is his passion for the game and his dedication to his players. He goes above and beyond to help kids who want to play at the next level get there. He then makes sure that he goes and sees them. I still remember when we (IU) were playing at Arizona in a tourney and my parents weren’t able to make the trip. I looked up in the stands and there was Coach Cook. It meant the world to me. I also think it says a lot that most of his coaching staff over the years are former players like myself who, after playing college ball, want to come back to the program. It is truly one big family!”
Asked how he would like to be remembered when his coaching days end, Cook leaned back in his chair, folded his arms, and paused a moment as if he was in deep thought. “That I’ve always been for our girls – and we’ve had some great ones come through this program as athletes and just really fine people,” he said. “And that I want those involved with our program to like what we’ve done and to know we’ve always tried to do things the right way.”
OK, coach, enjoy your Silver Anniversary season.