By Robin Chandler ’87
For the past 30 years, John Cooper P’08,'11 and the Hotchkiss girls varsity hockey team have been synonymous. Whether as an assistant coach or head coach, Cooper’s impact on hundreds of female hockey players since the late 1980s has been immeasurable. Upon his retirement this past June, Lucy Small DeStefano ’95 and Alex Kinney McBride ’09 combined forces and created a hockey award in his honor—the Most Inspirational Player award—that will be awarded at the end of each winter season.
The John W. Cooper Hockey Award
Named in honor of John W. Cooper P’08,'11, longtime head girls hockey coach and advocate for all Hotchkiss student-athletes, the John W. Cooper Hockey Award is presented to the member of the girls varsity hockey team who best demonstrates a love of the game and all that it means to be a part of a team. Just as was true for Coach Cooper, this player has shown endless curiosity about the beauty and wonder of this game played on ice, always striving to do better, and never tiring of the chance to tie up her laces and share with teammates her love for hockey and for them. Ever humble and unceasingly loyal, she always puts her teammates first as she lifts them up with the laughter and joy that comes with selfless dedication to the team.
For Cooper, a career spanning nearly 50 seasons of varsity sports is not about an accumulation of wins and losses, but rather a collection of shared moments with the players who he has coached. Cooper’s endless curiosity for the game was infectious and he inspired his players to be their best selves at the rink and beyond each day.
“Coops’ role and influence on my life went much beyond the traditional definition of teacher and coach," McBride shares. “He embodied exactly why a parent would want to send their child to boarding school, and I am immensely grateful to have been a benefactor of his guidance. In the classroom he was always challenging me to think beyond the textbook. It was a key lesson to learn at an early age that the work doesn’t stop at memorizing formulas, and that the next level of critical thinking is really where the sausage is made. On the ice, he could weave even the most overtly competitive spirits into a cohesive unit, year after year showing us how collectively we were greater than the sum of our parts. And in the halls, he helped us draw the line between taking ourselves seriously while not taking life too seriously. The world is truly a better place because of Johnny C, and I hope he knows his legacy will live on in all of us that he has shaped over the years.”
Robin Chandler ’87, who coached with Cooper from 1996-2019, further adds, “John has always been about fellowship, and fellowship comes with many lessons. Here are my top three:
"1) Know your people. John always made sure our players knew who took care of them from those in the Cage, to the dining hall, to those working our rinks. Appreciating and treating these people with respect, a kind heart, and a smile was incredibly important to him.
"2) Do what needs to be done for the betterment of the team. For many many years, John was the master of skate repair. Missing rivets, broken steel, you name it, John fixed it. Not only was fixing skates of our players, but he was fixing skates for the boys varsity and JV teams, too, and sometimes players from Berkshire and Salisbury. One time, one of our players had a broken blade and it was the day before a game. John left the ice that night and drove down to New Haven to get the right blades so he could fix our player’s skate before our game the next day.
"3) Always remember it's just a game and that sportsmanship reins above all else—no matter what. No one was more gracious after a win, loss, or tie than John. The lessons and takeaways I personally learned from John helped me become a better coach, and for that as well as his friendship I will be forever grateful.”
The John W. Cooper Hockey Award will be given out at the end of each winter season along with the Melissa Goss Simonds ’79 Hockey Award, established in honor of the first team, whose spirit and perseverance served as an inspiration for future teams. It is awarded to that player who—through her ability, enthusiasm, dedication, and sportsmanship—has contributed the most to the team.