He had become the face of Westside girls’ basketball.
As much as the head coach or the star players,
Johnny Earl Cook was quick with a joke or a riddle you had heard a thousand times before or to play a grade school prank on you. But he got so much enjoyment from those things that you found yourself smiling too.
But, along with the jokes and the pranks, Johnny Earl found a way to convey a lesson. Sometimes it was to help a player understand her role as a member of the team. Sometimes it was just to help a teenager learn about life and the things encountered. Only later would they stop and realize they had learned a life lesson—and it was painless.
Lots of things will never be the same without Johnny Earl.
Girls’ basketball at Westside will certainly not be the same. The bench will have a void as impossible to fill as the emptiness in the hearts of the coaches and players.
Practices won’t be the same.
Huff Creek won’t be the same.
Certainly his home will not be the same. Diane will surely feel his absence more than anyone. Their home had already become a lonelier place after the death of their beautiful daughter.
To be sure, Johnny Earl was fun-loving and mischievous, but there was one subject that brought out a serious side. The mention of his Kristi would bring a far-off look in his eye. I think that the loss of his beloved Kristi helped him to empathize with who had suffered a loss. I know that was the case with me.
When my Barby was sick and John Earl asked about her, he would give me on of his big bear hugs and I could see he would have a tear glisten in his eye. He understood.
Now, once again, the Cooks of Huff Creek will have to come together even closer to cope with their terrible loss. But, with their unshakable faith, they will endure…they always do.
Folks across the county and beyond felt as if they had lost a personal friend when Johnny Earl Cook passed….and they have.
Paige Cline is a long time columnist for the Independent Herald.