High school winter sports

Cooper, Cook, Bird check in as new Waldo County coaches

Mount View, Belfast get new girls hoop leaders; Lion track also changes hands
By Mark Haskell | Nov 28, 2017
Photo by: Mark Haskell Tina Cook.

With the regular season set to begin for high school winter sports — including basketball and indoor track — the Waldo County coaching carousel has spun for two schools and three programs, with new coaches in the fold at Mount View of Thorndike and Belfast Area high schools.

The Mustang girls basketball team has a new coach in Mark Cooper, as do the Lion girls, who will be led by Tina Cook.

Belfast also has a new indoor track coach in Geoff Bird.

The following is a look at three new Waldo County high school varsity coaches:

Cooper takes reins for Mustangs

Cooper is a 1983 graduate of Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield, went on to serve in the United States Marine Corps for seven years and graduated from the University of Maine in Presque Isle in 1997 with a degree in physical education.

He steps in for Tony Staffiere, who guided the Mustangs two seasons.

While he was a co-coach on the Mount View unified basketball team last season, along with Ron Simmons, this will be Cooper’s first varsity head coaching position. He has coached subvarsity teams at Caribou, Nokomis of Newport and Winslow in the past, along with many middle school and travel league squads.

“I am very excited to be the new varsity girls basketball coach at Mount View,” said Cooper, who also is a teacher at the school. “I have been following them for the past two seasons. I coached against many of the current players when they were in junior high when I coached at Winslow. The girls are fun to be around and seem to really be enjoying the season so far.”

Last season, the Mustangs finished 12th in Class B North and lost to No. 5 Winslow in the prelim playoff round.

Cooper recognizes there is much work to be done if the ‘Stangs hope to return to the postseason, but said he is encouraged by the number of players. Mount View will have a junior varsity team for the first time in several seasons and there are 25 girls playing at the middle school level.

He added he hopes to alter the culture of the program with certain expectations, such as making the team a top priority by exuding total commitment in the classroom and on the court, “giving 110 percent at all times” and to be physical, vocal and positive.

Thus far, he said, “the players have responded well.”

“They are working harder than ever before,” said Cooper. “Most of the players I have this year are not used to the amount of minutes they will have to play this season. So fundamental repetition, conditioning, and teaching are what will be working on this year.”

That, and making it to the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor for the Class B North quarterfinal playoff round.

“We know that this is a difficult goal,” he said. “Baby steps. One game at a time, one practice at a time [and] one skill mastery at a time. We know that we have doubters, [but] we are a family. We will stick together [and] we will stick up for each other.”

Cooper and his wife have four children, including his youngest, Mason, who attended Lawrence of Fairfield and is a freshman on the men’s basketball team at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Ky.

New Bird takes flight for Lion track

Bird replaces veteran coach Dale Nealey, who stepped down after expressing a desire to watch his son Drew Nealey — a former standout BAHS track-and-field athlete and sophomore at the University of Rhode Island — participate on that school's track team.

Bird is foreign neither to the team nor to coaching the sport. Not only did he volunteer with the Lion outdoor track team in 2014, but assisted in both the indoor and outdoor seasons last year as well.

He is a graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont and has coached cross country and track “for many years, starting in the late (19)60s, primarily in California,” though he also had a short stint coaching in the Boston area.

Bird also is an accomplished distance runner, having once finished the Boston Marathon in under three hours.

Bird said he and his wife retired to Belfast in 2014.

“I am honored to be head coach this winter, a position I take very seriously,” said Bird. “I know this group pretty well. The seniors, in particular, are an exceptional group, for their achievement but also for their maturity and leadership. There could not be better role models for younger kids, like Jack Hansen, who won the overall outstanding athlete award last year as a freshman.”

He added the goal for this season will be “focusing on conditioning, staying healthy and injury-free and learning to perform well in competition.”

“Track is less about winning and more about reaching your potential as an individual and as a team,” said Bird. “It takes real toughness to run indoor track in Maine without a nice warm college fieldhouse nearby. These kids train in the weight room, the gym, the hallways, and outside in the cold. It's a privilege to be able to work with them.”

Chef Cook(s) up spot with Lions

The 35-year-old Cook is a 2001 graduate of Searsport District High School, where she played soccer, basketball and softball for the Vikings. She also was a member of the Vikings' state championship softball team in 1998.

"I’m very excited,” said Cook of her new coaching position. “I like coaching a lot and just teaching in general. Showing what I learned when I was in school, passing it on and watching them win is fun too.”

Cook takes over for Butch Richards, who led the team one season. Prior to that, Stan Sturgis guided the Lions four years.

Cook also coached the middle school girls soccer team at Troy Howard Middle School in the fall and also was an assistant coach for the Searsport girls varsity soccer team several years ago.

She added that her brother, Jamie Johnson, will assist her on the bench this season for Belfast.

Cook said she expects her team to be “pretty competitive” once the regular season begins and that numbers are promising with roughly 35 girls coming out for the high school teams.

“They’re very optimistic and they seem to be really excited to have me as a coach,” she said.

Cook, who also is the owner of Chef on the Run, a local food truck in the Belfast area, resides in Searsport with her husband, Roger, and daughter, Makenzie.

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Mark Haskell
Associate Sports Director
594-4401, ext. 116
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Mark has been covering local sports throughout Knox, Waldo and part of Lincoln county since 2007. Haskell has a bachelor's degree in Mass Communication from the University of Maine and is also a 2000 graduate of Rockland District High School. He has won multiple Maine Press Association awards for writing and photography.

Mark loves iced coffee, cargo shorts, spending time with friends and family and suffers no longer after his beloved Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

He resides in Thomaston with his wife Jenn, his sons Beckett and Austin and daughter Lila.

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