The Pryor Times

May 15, 2014

LG’s Cook: ‘I’ve got to do my time’

Chuck Porter
Sports Editor

LOCUST GROVE, OK — An emotional Johnny Cook spoke for a half-hour during open forum at the Locust Grove school board meeting Monday night.

“We have a no-cuss rule at Locust Grove. Evidently, I did,” Cook, formerly the Locust Grove head high school wrestling coach, said.

“[Board President] Rick Condit looked me in the eye and told me before, ‘Don't cuss, or we'll have to fire you.’ It's not easy to stand here in front of everybody and say ‘I'm an idiot.’ But that's the rule, and I have never shirked my responsibilities.”

Cook,  his brother and assistant coach Tony Cook, and two other coaches were relieved of their duties April 15.

During the open forum, some community members argued if employees could be fired for using vulgar language, that would include most coaches. Johnny Cook, however, accepted full responsibility and consequences for his own actions.

“I violated the rules,” Johnny Cook said. “Those kids have done all those things for me. Sometimes I've had to punish them, and now I've got to be punished. If I kept coaching and knew I was doing wrong, all those banners, all those trophies wouldn't mean anything. They'd be a lie.

“If [Superintendent David] Cash told me right now, ‘Hey, Johnny, we reversed our decision, you've got the job,’ I couldn't take it. I've got to go to jail. I've got to do my time.”

The dismissals of all four the coaches have caused an uproar in the community. Monday was the first board meeting since the dismissals.

“Tony and I have been here for a quarter of a century ... guys with [Tony's] credentials could coach nationally, but Tony stayed right here, in Locust Grove, as an assistant coach,” Johnny Cook said. “We have never been here because we had to be. We are here because we chose to be. Turned down all those jobs and money. Most importantly it was for the kids, but secondly it was for the people.”

Johnny Cook, who was named the Class 3A/4A State Coach of the Year for the second time in March, told stories about several of the athletes he has coached. He spoke at length about his and his team's relationship with wrestler Jon Cowan, who died from injuries he sustained in a car accident in 2007.

“I almost quit after that year,” Johnny Cook said.

Donnie Curtis, who was one of Cowan's best friends and teammates, was approved later in the night as Johnny Cook's replacement as head coach. Curtis had been an assistant at Pryor High School.

Johnny Cook also took the opportunity to deny rumors that he had changed grades for a student, whose name he could not mention due to student-teacher confidentiality rules. Cook also denied that the student-athlete wrestled ineligibly at the state wrestling tournament, citing eligibility reports from the week before and the week after the tournament.

Johnny Cook said even if he wanted to covertly change grades, he wouldn't know how from a technology standpoint. “I don't even have a cell phone,” he added.