Boys Tennis: Shepard coach Cooper serving up 31 years of success
By Jeff Vorva For Sun-Times Media May 25, 2014 5:46PM
Shepard coach Dmitri Cooper, talking with freshman singles player Paul Milkus at the Sandburg Sectional, has coached boys tennis at the school for 31 years and said he’s been an assistant girls tennis coach for 18 seasons. | Jeff Vorva/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 27, 2014 6:28AM
Shepard hasn’t had a world of postseason success in tennis to brag about in the last three decades.
But veteran Astros coach Dmitri Cooper said he has plenty to be proud of.
The Astros’ season came to an end at the Sandburg Sectional over the weekend and it closed out Cooper’s 31st year of coaching the boys team. He said he also has been an assistant coach for the girls team for 18 seasons.
Despite Shepard’s fourth-place finish in the league, Cooper is in line to win his second South Suburban Conference Red Coach of the Year award in three years.
In the fall, when the girls season gets underway, it will mark his 50th season of coaching tennis at the school. While there have been some lean years on the Palos Heights campus, Cooper said he has just as much enthusiasm as he did in the 1980s.
He doesn’t base his success rate on sectional titles (he has one in 31 years) or individual state appearances. He bases it on what he sees when a kid walks in as a freshman and leaves as a senior.
“A lot of kids who come to Shepard have never played tennis before,” Cooper said. “We take those kids and put a tennis racket in their hands and if they are willing to work hard, by the time they are seniors they will be able to play competitively and do a nice job.
“We know where a kid comes from and how hard he has worked and you can see that progression. You see them go through those phases and they grow. They mature. I really enjoy watching them learn the team aspect of the game so that when they go out in the real world and get a job they will hopefully get along and work with their fellow employees ’’
The longtime coach and math teacher plans on retiring after the 2016 season.
Stagg coach John Daniels has butted heads with Cooper’s teams for 11 years and admires the Astros coach’s approach to the game.
“He has preparation and he has passion for what he does,” Daniels said. “When you go to Shepard, you see how the coach relates to his players. And it carries over. You see his kids come back and talk to him. Five or six years later, you see players come back and talk to him. He has kids that played 30 years ago for him coming back.
“They talk to him about their grandkids,’’ Daniels added with a smile. “Coaches like Coop make it a team thing where players support each other. That’s what it should be like. That’s what’s fun about tennis.’’
Cooper played baseball and basketball at Hyde Park and Simpson College. When he started coaching at Shepard, he had a smattering of tennis experience but discovered he needed to learn more and joined the United States Professional Tennis Registry.
“When I first coached, I based it on reading books and watching tennis,” he said. “But I wanted to give my players more and that’s when I decided to get certified. Now they are learning the right stuff.’’