As a professional football player, Hernandez “Hunkie” Cooper used his speed as an advantage over opponents. Today, Coach Cooper uses a different edge to bring more to his job as a site coordinator at Canyon Springs High School in North Las Vegas.
Because his own life experiences closely match those of many of the students he serves – he lost his father when he was a teen and was raised, along with eight siblings, by his mother in low-income housing – Cooper is able to relate to his students’ circumstances. Having traveled a common path has helped Cooper build trust; the students know they can ask him anything.
“They know when they walk through that door I’m going to help,” said Cooper. “I came from where these kids came from. I know the support they are looking for. It’s about being available and being a great listener. And finding the resources to help them.”
A key resource that helped Cooper navigate his way was sports. He played high school football, got a scholarship that took him to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and then played professionally with the Arena Football League. After 13 years, Cooper returned to his hometown and brought with him both his passion for football and for helping youth. At Canyon Springs, he started as a volunteer tutor and part-time football coach before he became a full-time coach and Communities In Schools of Nevada site coordinator.
“I use academics and athletics to motivate,” said Cooper. “I know if kids use their abilities, someone will give them money for college. I try to teach them that the commitment, hard work and dedication they use on the field is the same as what builds success in the classroom.”
Coach Cooper turned the once flailing football team into the 2011 Northeast Division champs. But if you are keeping score, Cooper’s impact adds up to more than just supporting students on the field. No matter how time-consuming coaching is, Cooper is equally committed to serve students who are not athletes. Along with Shaqueena Hall and Adande Lane, two other site coordinators at Canyon Springs, Cooper provides targeted services to 225 students.
He is driven to give back to his community, embracing one of the basic tenets of Communities In Schools. Cooper organizes fundraisers, arranges for SAT prep courses for students and, through his actions, demonstrates what it is to be a leader in the community. He also makes sure kids have food, school supplies and anything else they might need to be successful in the classroom and on the playing field.
“The students really connect with him,” said Tiffani Lloyd, the executive director of Communities In School of Southern Nevada. “He has a natural gift. He’s especially great at connecting with the male students and helping them gain perspective on their futures. He’s absolutely committed to the students.”
Cooper’s reach extends beyond the school. Recently he had a student who was facing the possibility of not being able to graduate because he was short one credit. Cooper signed the student up for the necessary course work, arranged for him to have a tutor and planned to take the student to the off-campus test location.
“Working with youth is my passion,” said Cooper. “To work with kids who have all the potential and no direction … I want to give them that. I will always serve kids and the community.”