Hutch High’s David Cooper: Putting life’s pieces back together

By Brett Marshall, Staff Writer

On the surface, 18-year-old David Cooper appears to be just another typical high school basketball player. After all, he’s not a starter on the undefeated Hutchinson Salt Hawk team. As a 6-2 senior forward, Cooper comes off the bench to spell one of the HHS frontline staters. He doesn’t score a lot – he averages just four points.

But David Cooper is a special player for this Hutch High team.

“He continually amazes me with how we he has his life together,” said HHS coach Dan Justice of David. “He even teaches me a lot with out he handles himself.”

David, you see, suffered a tragedy last June that few people experience. His father and mother, George and Wilma Cooper, his older brother, Guy, and an older sister, Leslie Lehman, all drowned in a flash flood June 14, 1981, in the Pedernales River in East Central Texas near Johnson City.

David, along with his sister-in-law, Patty Coleman, who was married to Guy, witnessed the tragedy. To this day, it is a tragedy that David cannot, and will not, forget. But it is an event he will discuss without hesitation.

“Since I was there from the moment it happened, I was able to tell myself that there is nothing I can do … I just have to go on.”

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“…wall built around me and I didn’t want to think about it. But then I gradually snapped out of it and now it doesn’t bother me to talk about it.”

In order to collect social security benefits, David had to enroll in 12 hours of college classes at Hutchinson Community College. That came when legislation under the Reagan administration, due to go into effect May 1, was passed recently.

As a result, David attends four hours of high school classes daily, Monday through Friday. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, he is in college classes from 1-3 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday nights he has classes from 7-10 p.m.

In between, he practices basketball daily. A busy schedule, indeed.

“So far it’s not too bad,” says David. “I didn’t take too many hard classes at the junior college. The high school classes aren’t that bad either. Wednesday is the only day I have to squeeze everything in.” David doesn’t mind the hectic schedule though.

“I don’t have anything on weekends so I can still maintain a social life and that’s important to me,” says David. “Before basketball season started, I would be bored after school was out. Going to college has helped me with my study habits. I’m sure it will be a big help when I go off to school next fall.”

On the basketball floor, however, David is able to erase thoughts of a busy schedule.

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“I wasn’t sure how much I was going to get to contribute. Coming off the bench like I do, I feel I must do something while I’m in there, not just take up space. There’s no use playing if you don’t contribute. If you do something worthwhile, your teammates have confidence in you and your ability.” David considers his defense and shooting to be his strengths.

“I love to come in and play good defense and help the team out,” he says. “My shooting is a little streaky. Some nights I can’t miss and other nights I can’t make a thing.”

David doesn’t consider himself to be anybody special just because of what he’s accomplished under…

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“My parents raised us to be independent as much as possible,” says David of his father and mother. “That was a key factor for me. I was already independent before. Patty has been a big help to me. I prayed a lot and that gave me strength.”

David talks of the accident, which at the time seemed endless to him.

“There were hours of waiting,” he recalls. “I could feel how terrified they were, especially my mom. She was scared of water.”

A helicopter was called in to help in the rescue of the Coopers, but it arrived 10 minutes too late.

“There wasn’t much anybody could do; it’s just one of those things,” David says in retrospect. David now lives with the Lyle Neville family. Neville is the HHS wrestling coach. His son, Lane, is a close friend to David.

“They approached me about living with them and it seemed like a good thing to do,” he says. “They’ve been great to me. I couldn’t ask for anybody to treat me any better than they have.”

David has no reservations about the way he has pieced his life together.

“One thing that makes me feel good is that I think I’ve acted the way he’d [David’s father] want me to,” says David. “He was a psychologist and he taught me how to handle things. I told my parents a year ago that I thought I had been brought up really well,” David says. “The way I’ve handled things is a credit more to them than it is to me.”