March 2022 ~
They were formative years for women’s sports, and they helped form Therese Cooper’s (Jackson, 1978) life and career.
Cooper earned 11 varsity letters at Jackson and went on to play four years of volleyball for the Oregon Ducks before embarking on a 34-year run as a high school English teacher and coach in multiple sports.
Today, the 2018 PIL Hall of Fame inductee lives in Northeast Portland with her husband of 34 years, Jefferson Ranck, and Stanley, their 9-year-old Airedale. They like to travel, visit their 6-year-old grandson in Manhattan and watch football and baseball, among other sports.
Therese started a Thursday walking group with other former teachers and is teaching herself Spanish.
The days have always been full of sports in one way or another since the native Portlander was playing CYO volleyball, basketball and softball while attending Capitol Hill Elementary School or playing club softball for a Lake Oswego team or swimming for a neighborhood team.
She spent four years at Jackson and would have had even more varsity letters if not for two factors.
One, she didn’t turn out for a fall sport as a freshman.
“I didn’t want to go out for volleyball because I was scared of the transition, which is kind of ridiculous, but you know, when you’re 14, sometimes you think like that,” she says.
And two, softball wasn’t a school sport until her junior year. “Softball was my best sport at that point,” she says. She hit .650 for the Raiders.
“I was used to a much higher level” with faster, better pitching.
“In high school, everything came in looking like watermelons to me.” She played two years at catcher and was all-PIL as a senior.
In volleyball, she did turn out as a sophomore and went on to play three years and also make all-league as a senior.
In basketball, she was a 5-6 forward and all-PIL and team MVP as a senior. She did two years of track and field before softball was added, and she set a school record in the javelin, placing second in the PIL.
She liked Jackson, a newer school that had a relatively small enrollment yet was competitive in athletics thanks largely to coaches such as Toni Hunter and Jim MacDicken in girls basketball, John Stilwell and Marsha Richard in volleyball and softball and others. She had four older brothers and one younger sister, most of whom played some sports but weren’t as into it as she was.
She had a pretty good for then especially jump reach of about 28 inches — and she wasn’t afraid to reach for her dreams, which crystallized early.
“I was in fourth or fifth grade when I saw a story about the first woman to earn an athletic scholarship to college. I said, ‘That’s what I want,'” she recalls.
She already had picked out her other goal.
“In third grade, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. Or a nurse,” she says. “I always wanted to help people, and I always just liked teachers.”
Every generation of her family — which came to the area with other pioneers along the Oregon Trail (one great-something uncle was born on the trail in the vicinity of Idaho) — had a teacher, and she was intent to follow that path. The most fun sport for her at Jackson was basketball, and she had a volleyball/basketball scholarship offer from the University of Portland, “but I wanted to get away.”
She was able to create her vision of being a scholarship college athlete after walking on in volleyball at Oregon.
“If I hadn’t made the volleyball team, I would have walked on in basketball,” she says.
Chris Voelz was the UO volleyball coach and found a spot for Cooper as a setter. Therese started all four years and had her scholarship – mostly just tuition, but that was enough to ease the financial burden on her parents financially. It was a shoestring budget for women’s sports. “But the university found me a lucrative summer job packing paper at some printing presses in Beaverton,” she says.
Being an Oregon volleyball player, even then, “was really intense,” Cooper says. “I just fell in love with the sport. I trained real hard and always got voted as the one in the best shape coming into the season.”
Volleyball wasn’t yet in the NCAA for Oregon, which competed against Montana, Montana State, Washington, Washington State, some California schools and Portland State. “Portland State and (coach Marlene Piper) beat us all the time,” Cooper says.
The UO volleyball team didn’t get to play in McArthur Court until the second half of her college career. The women had home matches in the basement gymnasium at Gerlinger Hall, built around 1920 for women on campus.
“The gym had concrete floors with tile,” she says.
The perks of being a U of O volleyball player? You got a pair of shoes. One pair. For the entire season. Of course, they didn’t last that long.
“We practiced nine or 10 hours a day in preseason,” Cooper says. “When those shoes wore out, you had to buy your own. You had to provide everything else for yourself, too. Knee pads, whatever.”
The Ducks did get two uniforms, for home and away games, if you want to call them that. “A top and a bottom,” she says.
Cooper made good on her desire to become an educator. She got a degree in humanities and went on to earn a masters in education from Portland State.
And with that, it was off to the real world. For five years, she taught and coached some junior varsity volleyball and softball as an assistant at Glencoe High in Hillsboro. “Coaches’ pay was based on the perceived public interest in the sport, so I was the lowest-paid coach there, and on one-year teaching deals with no job security,” she says.
She finally had to say enough of that, and a former Jackson coach, Vic Carlson, who had become athletic director at Jefferson, hired her as the head volleyball coach and assistant softball coach under Michael Bontemps.
“We were awful in volleyball, lucky to have enough girls out for two teams,” Cooper says. “We were like 0-16 the first year, but I’ll always remember that we won one game the next year and the girls were so excited.”
Cooper went on to work and coach at Roosevelt and Grant, and she had a brief stint at Wilson earlier in her career.
She stepped down as a volleyball coach after the 2000 season, when the Generals had a good year and she was named PIL Coach of the Year. But she went on to teach through the 2016-17 school year before retiring.
“I’m glad I’m not doing it anymore, but I really liked it,” she says.
Retirement affords her the opportunity to make other uses of her time. She reads a couple hours a day and has gone on tours with her husband of Major League Baseball ballparks and one Single-A baseball journey to various Northwest venues, such as in Tri-Cities, Spokane and Boise.
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~ Profile written by Steve Brandon (Cleveland, 1972)