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Catching Up With Former Coach Mark Cooke

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Mark Cooke coached the softball and volleyball programs in the late 1980s.

Mark Cooke coached the softball and volleyball programs in the late 1980s.

Oct. 5, 2009

SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Mark Cooke spent three seasons at the former USC Spartanburg during the late 1980s. Cooke was the head coach of the Rifles softball team for three seasons and spent one season as the head coach of the volleyball program.

Cooke served as the head softball coach from 1987 to 1989, during which time the Rifles won 77 games. With 77 victories, Cooke owns the second-most victories in softball history. Cooke never finished a season with a losing record. The Rifles posted records of 28-20, 25-14 and 24-22 from 1987 to 1989 respectively.

During the 1988 season, Cooke served as the head coach of the volleyball team. The Rifles finished the season with a record of 32-12 and an 11-1 mark in NAIA District Six. The team won both the district and bi-district titles earning them a trip to the NAIA National Tournament. That was the second of three consecutive trips the Rifles made to the national tournament.

Cooke now serves as the head coach of the Winthrop Eagles softball team. Cooke, who is entering his 20th-season at the helm of the Eagle program, has won 541 games in Rock Hill. The former Rifle coach owns a career record of 625-559-3.

Cooke recently sat down with Alex Edwards of to discuss his time at USCS as well as the impact it had on his career and life.

What made you want to pursue a career in coaching?
While I was a teenager, I coached youth baseball in Inman and I really enjoyed it. Because of those experiences, I always wanted to stay active in sports.

What was your most memorable moment during your time as a head coach at USCS?
I guess there are two of them, one was the year both volleyball and softball were ranked in the top twenty in the NAIA. The other was making the trip to the NAIA Nationals in volleyball.

In 1988, you coached both the Volleyball and Softball teams, what was the biggest challenge in juggling duties for both programs?
The biggest challenge was trying to recruit both sports. One was always in season and left very little time for recruiting. I was lucky to have some terrific assistants who were always taking care of the other team when I was not there: Addy Marcote, Ellie Cassidy and Chris Hawkins. Chris and I are still in constant contact and we help each other when possible, except on game days.

What is your relationship like with Upstate head softball coach Chris Hawkins?
Chris and I go way back, we became really good friends when he served as our volleyball SID. Later on he became an assistant coach for the softball program and we became roommates. We have stayed in constant contact through the years with softball being our common focus. Chris contacted me when Upstate announced the move to the D-I level. I assured and continued to re-assure him over and over that he would compete with everyone in the region, naturally he didn't believe me.

How do you feel your time in Spartanburg has helped you in your coaching career?
While at Spartanburg, I was privileged to be mentored by a group of outstanding coaches: Joe Bowman, Mim Sheldon, Jerry Waters and Frank Kohlenstein. All of these coaches took the time to help me develop into a college coach and gave me valuable insights into what and how they did things. I still use the skills they shared with me every day.

What do you see as being the most rewarding aspect of coaching?
I really enjoy the impact coaches have on their players. We have to teach role, responsibility, respect and discipline. These are the life lessons that everyone needs and I think being a coach is very important in that development.

Who were your heroes growing up?
I always admired my parents and grandparents, so they are an easy choice. From an athletic hero standpoint, I would have to go with former New York Yankee Bobby Richardson.

If your current team was to describe you in one word, what word do you think they would choose and why?
They would describe me as traditional. I still believe in the traditional values: honesty, hard work and no excuses. As a coach, I am very precise about what I perceive as right and wrong. I expect the same from my players.

What is one interesting fact that people may not know about you?
I was a non-traditional student at Spartanburg. I was 35 years old when I graduated. Most of the friends I had there were also non-traditional and older, so I was not the usual student.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
I see myself coaching third base and trying to beat the big teams in the NCAA.

USC Upstate Women's Volleyball
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