Jesse Cooper 1931-2013: Tulsa's 'Mr. Volleyball' dies at 81
BY TIM STANLEY World Staff Writer
Sunday, February 17, 2013
2/17/13 at 2:57 AM
On a couple of the older volleyballs at Tulsa's downtown YMCA, it was still just legible - the name "Cooper" written in black marker.
But even if they technically belonged to him, Jesse Cooper would never dream of taking them back.
"They were contributions," he told the Tulsa Tribune once with a smile.
"At one time we had to contribute just so we could play."
Volleyball in Oklahoma has certainly come a long way. Since the early days, when Cooper and other players had to furnish their own equipment, it has become for many the sport of choice - both recreationally and competitively, and not just at the Y but at schools and gyms all over.
And Cooper, a longtime player, coach and administrator, had as much to do with that as anyone.
Discovering the sport as an adult with his wife, Freda, he made it his mission over the next 50 years to promote volleyball everywhere, including through roles on the state and national level.
Jesse Floyd Cooper Jr., a retired president of Gaso Pumps Inc. who was better known as Tulsa's "Mr. Volleyball," died Jan. 30. He was 81.
A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 23 at Butler-Stumpff Funeral Home.
A former member of the Tulsa-based Golden Okies seniors team, Cooper was still playing noon pick-up games until a couple of years ago, family members say.
But even if age had curtailed his playing, his interest was as strong as ever.
Cooper remained coordinator of the Jenks Public Schools Community Education Volleyball Program, a role he'd had since 1995.
And he rarely missed a local match, whether at the University of Tulsa, Oral Roberts University or an area high school.
"He was still evaluating talent. He'd sometimes call me to tell me about a good player he'd seen," said Susan Cooper, his daughter and a former volleyball coach.
A native of Belpre, Kan., and former varsity gymnast at the University of Colorado, Jesse Cooper was introduced to volleyball at Tulsa's Downtown YMCA in 1957.
Recruited to fill a slot in a pick-up game, he began playing regularly at the Y and later coached men and women through the U.S. Volleyball Association.
At the time, volleyball was considered more the stuff of church picnics and backyards, with few competitive teams.
But Cooper and others began to promote volleyball as a serious "power" sport, his daughter said. And as perceptions changed, interest mushroomed, especially on the high school level.
Among his top achievements, Cooper formed the state's first Junior Olympic program in 1976 - the origin of today's club programs - drawing Oklahoma's best young amateur players to compete in tournaments around the country.
One of his proudest moments came in 1994. That was the year Cooper, who was vice president of the USVA's education division, was instrumental in landing the USVA National Tournament for Tulsa, bringing 230 teams to town.
Through it all, he continued to play. The Golden Okies scored high in USVA tournaments around the country and once won the National Senior Olympics in Baton Rouge, La.
Several years ago the Oklahoma Volleyball Coaches Association began giving an annual scholarship in Cooper's name in recognition of his contributions to youth volleyball.
There were few aspects he hadn't been involved in, including helping coaches organize and run tournaments, and even repairing equipment.
"One of my volleyball standards is still at his house," said Jerri Berna, Bishop Kelley head volleyball coach. "He would repair equipment, take surplus equipment and get it ready for someone else to use. There are many coaches who relied on Jess for these things."
"Almost everyone who had anything to do with volleyball knew Jess. If they didn't, they had to be new. He was a pioneer and great ambassador for our sport."
Cooper was preceded in death by his wife, Freda, and a sister. Survivors include his two children, Susan Cooper and Scott Cooper; two grandchildren; and a sister, Janice Cooper.
Original Print Headline: Tulsa's 'Mr. Volleyball' tirelessly promoted sport
Tim Stanley 918-581-8385
Jesse Cooper: Recruited to fill a slot in a 1957 pick-up game, he began playing volleyball regularly at the Downtown YMCA and later coached men and women through the U.S. Volleyball Association. A former member of the Tulsa-based Golden Okies seniors team, Cooper was still playing noon pick-up games until a couple of years ago, family members say.