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Originally published October 26, 2013 at 3:33 PM | Page modified October 26, 2013 at 11:26 PM

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Dom Cooks inspires homecoming crowd at Decatur-Auburn Mountainview game

Diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor a year and a half ago, a Decatur senior returned to the field and scored a ceremonial touchdown on Friday.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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FEDERAL WAY – It was a night any high-school senior would forever cherish.

After scoring a long-awaited touchdown in front of adoring fans and family, complete with spin moves and a touchdown dance, Dom Cooks traded his shiny white helmet for a leopard-print crown and joined the homecoming court as king. The raucous Decatur crowd chanted, “We love you, Dom! We love you, Dom!” as he passed by.

But Dom Cooks isn’t just any football player, and that was no ordinary touchdown that highlighted Friday’s game between Decatur and Auburn Mountainview at Federal Way Memorial Stadium.

Once an up-and-coming athlete, the 18-year-old Cooks spends most of his days in a wheelchair as an inoperable, cancerous brain tumor continues to wreak havoc with the left side of his body. But he continues to inspire students, teachers and administrators with his positive attitude and sense of humor.

It’s been a year and a half since the family was floored by the diagnosis, and Dom, who started on the Decatur defensive line as a sophomore, recently started a third round of treatment — a chemotherapy pill that sent him to the emergency room with an allergic reaction two nights before that memorable touchdown.

Doctors aren’t optimistic.

“They tell me I’ve got three to six more months to live, but I don’t really listen to them like that,” Cooks said. “Only God knows. One day we’ve eventually all got to go, so I’m not really scared of that.”

He once told principal David Brower that his biggest blessings are Decatur High School and his tumor. Why the tumor, Brower asked.

“It teaches me that tomorrow’s not a promise, and I need to embrace every day,” Cooks responded.

The moment left Brower in tears and determined to help orchestrate that special moment Friday that gave Cooks his one wish — to put on his pads and play football again.

“Follow your dreams or spend the rest of your life working for someone who’s followed theirs.”

— Quote of the day Cooks has given during school announcements

The idea started with teachers Sean Smith and Heather White, who often heard Cooks speak of his desire to play football and basketball again. They approached Brower, began working with Decatur coach Leon Hatch and Auburn Mountainview principal Terri Herren, hoping to put something together for the homecoming game.

All were on board, and Mountainview coach Jared Gervais was eager for his team to take part — even suggesting the scoring play be part of the actual game, where in exchange Decatur would give up a touchdown, so Cooks could have his name in the box score.

But Brower decided a ceremonial play at halftime was best, and the two teams lined up at the Mountainview 10-yard line.

Cooks, who is regularly on the sideline in his wheelchair, put on his pads in the second quarter and donned a pink Decatur T-shirt, which he wore in lieu of a regular jersey to support breast cancer awareness month.

Fans on both sides cheered as he walked into the Decatur formation in a slot position and two of his best friends put the play in motion. Quarterback Isaiah Hatch took the snap and passed to Isaiah Diggs, who handed the ball back to Cooks.

Then came the show. He spun not once, but twice as players and cheerleaders from both teams applauded. Cooks danced his way into the end zone, raised the football in celebration, then flipped it away as fans rushed the field and surrounded him, chanting his nickname, “Cookie! Cookie! Cookie!”

Cooks, 18, basked in the moment, simply calling the experience “great” and “dope.” Coach Hatch beamed and asked him for some dance lessons.

Auburn Mountainview’s Ray Hardaway said he was thankful to be on the field for the play.

“People were saying that’s an honor for him, but honestly it’s an honor for us for them to choose us,” he said. “It’s an honor for me because my dad died of brain cancer (last year) and my heart goes out to the family.”

“It takes nothing to join the crowd, but it takes everything to stand alone”

— Quote of the day Cooks has given during school announcements

Cooks’ condition is just one challenge facing the family. Their mother, Tasha Ward, was found to have sickle-cell anemia at age 14 and struggles with her health. At the time, she was told her life expectancy would be 25, but she’s defying odds at 41.

She hopes Dom defies them, too.

He says he stays strong for her.

“I keep a positive attitude pretty much every day,” Cooks said. “I have my days, but I get through them. Because for every cloudy day, there’s a brighter one.”

And none was brighter than Friday. The best part?

“Just getting the ball and being under the lights again,” he said. “I’ll take this to the grave with me.”

But not anytime soon, he added.

“That will be right after my career in the NBA, or NFL.”

Because in Dom Cooks’ world, each day is a gift and the possibilities remain endless.

Sandy Ringer: 206-718-1512 or sringer@seattletimes.com



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