Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Sports

May 16, 2014

GC Baseball: Coach Melanie Cook leads Agape Christian Academy to TCAL state title

Corsicana — A woman coaching baseball, a bunch of kids who had never won and a purple hippo. Make that a charging purple hippo.

If you see that answer on Jeopardy, the question is: What is the Agape Christian Academy baseball team?

Make that the state champion Agape Christian Academy baseball team.

Melanie Cook's Charging Hippos won the Texas Christian Athletic League baseball title by sweeping Sunnybrook Christian Academy of San Antonio in the best-of-three series in Franklin last weekend.

Yes, Melanie is the head baseball coach. She's also the head volleyball coach, the head boys basketball coach and next year she will coach the 6-man football team at Agape.

If that's a surprise to most people, just think about the umpire in Tyler, who took out the holder of his scorecard and asked Cook to sign it.

“He called me over and asked me to sign it,'' Cook said. “He said: 'Would you sign this for me? In 20 years I've never seen a woman on the field.'”

If you think that umpire respects Cook, just listen to her kids.

“She's better than all the men coaches we've had here,'' said Caleb Goodnight, a seventh grader who plays in the outfield.

“She taught us how to win,'' said left-handed pitcher Luke Goodnight, a junior who won the final game to complete the sweep at state — a 16-2, four-inning romp. Agape won the opening game 9-6.

“She taught us how to care about the game. She really cares about us.''

Cook taught baseball, strategy and something else.

“She taught us to believe in ourselves,'' said Michael Coffey, the ace of the staff. “She was the only coach we've ever had who believed in us. She taught us baseball, and she taught us how to win.''

Agape didn't just win the TCAL state title, the Chargers (the Charging Hippos) won for the first time in the history of the school. They had athletic teams in the past, but no one ever won a game. The baseball team won seven games in the regular season, playing junior varsity teams from public schools because there are no TCAL schools in the area, and then swept Sunnybrook.

When Josh Goodnight caught a fly ball to end the game, the kids, coaches, parents and teachers all went crazy in a wonderful and memorable celebration. They jumped and screamed and hugged, and jumped and hugged some more. The kids dumped the water barrel on Cook, who broke out in a smile that would have reached all the way to LA.

That's where Cook grew up before taking a winding road to Corsicana and Agape. She loved Los Angeles and the Dodgers and grew up learning about baseball at Dodger Stadium, where she went to games all her life, never dreaming she would coach a boys baseball team.

She came to Texas because her family had a place in Eureka and it was time to leave San Pedro, a suburb of LA.

“I loved growing up in LA,'' Cook said. “But it's gone. It's a whole different animal. Where I lived in San Pedro, you would hear gunfire once or twice every week.''

Cook spent a year as an assistant softball coach at Corsicana High and then took over as the head softball coach at R.L. Turner High School in Carrollton, where she coached for three years before coming to Agape as an English and history teacher last year. She has taken over the athletic program at the small school that doesn't have a ball field or a gymnasium.

The baseball team travels to Rice and practices at the sports complex, and the basketball and volleyball teams practice and play games at other school's gyms.

 “Melanie is a terrific coach,'' said Kathi McMullan, the founder and principal at Agape. “Melanie is a very good English and history teacher. She has a lot of passion in everything she does, and she will go the extra mile for any kid. The kids love her.''

McMullan trusted and believed in Cook and watched her instill trust and faith into her players.

“I think at first the boys were like, she doesn't know what she's doing,'' McMullan said. “But she won their respect.''

And the team earned the respect of others.

“She taught us that because nobody believed in us that we could shock the world,'' said second baseman Garrett Rogers, the only senior on the team. “She's a great coach. She taught us how to appreciate the game of baseball.''

Cook wanted to have a softball team as well, but “We didn't have the numbers,'' Cook said. “I've been obsessed with baseball my whole life, growing up at Dodger Stadium.”

Still, she shocked and bothered some, who had trouble adjusting to the idea of a woman coaching a  baseball team.

“I noticed it occasionally,'' she said of the critics who had trouble with the idea. “There were some issues, but I didn't have anyone who was openly ugly to me. At games I was often identified as an assistant coach. I had a father help me with the team and when we went to the plate they thought he was the coach. But by the end of the game coaches on the other team gave me hearty handshakes. I haven't talked to any coach who isn't willing to reschedule me next year.''

She brought an aggressive, small-ball game to Agape, where her players put pressure on the other teams. Cook calls it using the softball philosophy on the baseball diamond, and her kids love it.

“She taught us how to use softball ideas to win baseball games,'' said Anthony Richardson, a junior third baseman and the team's top hitter. He went 5 for 5 in the state tournament with two doubles and a triple and drove in five runs while scoring four. Coffey had eight strikeouts to win the opening game and went 6 for 6 with three doubles and six RBI's.

The baseball team has 13 players that range from seventh grade to Rogers, the only senior. They have Chargers written on their purple jerseys, but there's also a purple hippo on the inside collar, and Cook calls her team the Charging Hippos, because “A charging hippo is very dangerous.''

When they opened the school six years ago the last thing anyone had on their mind on was hippos, charging or otherwise. And athletics wasn't on anyone's mind, either.

“It really wasn't, even though it's something I believe in,'' said McMullan, who had no intention of opening a school. But after being a teacher for years, she decided to home-school her son. Before she knew it, friends and others from her church were asking McMullan about teaching their children.

“I had five teachers and 50 students in my house,'' McMullan said. “You can imagine ... I wasn't planning on opening a school but God opened the door and I did it out of obedience to God.''

They have fielded some teams over the six years, volleyball, basketball, baseball and cross country, a sport Kristy Goodnight coaches, but Agape never won — until Cook came along.

Now they can hang a state championship banner.

“We always wanted to have athletics. It's something I wanted after we opened the school, and Melanie has been great,'' McMullan said. “It's been super exciting for the school. We're a small school of about 85 to 100 students, and you see (the effect of the baseball success) transfer to all areas of their lives for everyone in the school.

“Kids who never had an opportunity to play believe in themselves,'' she said. “The girls on the volleyball team are already talking about going to state next fall.''

That's what Cook and her team have brought to the school, a new spirit, belief in themselves, a deep pride and a feeling of succeeding and doing whatever they want to do in life — invaluable lessons.

A woman coaching baseball, a bunch of kids who had never won and a purple hippo — make that a charging purple hippo — might be the answer to what is the Agape Christian baseball team. But of course, the real answer is much, much more …

 

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