GANSEVOORT, N.Y. – The North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) announced its recipients of the sportsmanship and inspirational award winners on Wednesday and former Gallaudet University women's basketball coach Kevin Cook was selected as one of the two inspirational award winners. The timing is bittersweet as the announcement of Cook resigning from his post for personal reasons was announced two days ago.
Cook shares the inspirational award with SUNYIT baseball pitcher Michael Rose. The team sportsmanship award was presented to the Penn St.-Abington women's tennis team while men's lacrosse standout Thomas Longland from Morrisville State College received the other sportsmanship award.
Below is excerpt from Cook's nomination letter:
Gallaudet University women's basketball head coach Kevin Cook is a unique individual that is humble, a teacher, friend, and one that sees the bright side of anything negative. Cook's story is one that fuels courage and hope as he currently deals with his Parkinson's disease while also dealing with the loss of his best friend, his sister, who perished in a house fire. Cook dealt with these matters while leading Gallaudet University, the nation's deaf and hard of hearing University, to the best start in program history (dating back to 1896) as the Bison started the year 20-0 and finished the season in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. Cook guided the Bison to one of their best seasons ever as Gallaudet posted a 24-4 record and earned their third bid to the NCAA tournament in program history. The Bison were nationally ranked for over a month reaching as high as No. 18 in the coaches' poll. In their first season in the NEAC, the Bison posted a 20-2 conference mark and earned a share of the regular-season conference title with Keuka College. Cook coached NEAC Player of the Year and eventual Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA), D3hoops.com, and Women's DIII News All-American Easter Faafiti. The senior forward/center went on to capture more than 20 different awards from all-conference first team honors to all-region first team honors, and ECAC Division III South Player of the Year.
For his efforts, Cook earned NEAC Coach of the Year, Division III Region 3 Coach of the Year and was named a finalist for the 2011 Russell Athletic Division III National Coach of the Year award.
Cook and the Bison were featured nationally and internationally on multiple media platforms, as Gallaudet became the media darlings of NCAA women's basketball in 2010-11. The Bison were seen on ABC World News Tonight, CBS News with Katie Couric, ESPN College Game Day, Global TV of Canada, Comcast Sportsnet in Washington, D.C., National Public Radio, WRC NBC 4 in D.C. and WTTG Fox 5 in D.C. as well as being written up by the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, Parade Magazine, and the Washington Post. Cook has also been profiled several times by newspapers in his native Ohio including the Dayton Daily News and the Fremont News-Messenger.
This past spring, Cook went back to his alma mater Urbana University where he was the commencement speaker. Cook has also worked with the United States of America State Department to hold clinics for coaches from different countries including Russia, Germany to name a few. He has also spoken at different schools for the Deaf.
Cook was honored in 2010 with the prestigious Carol Eckman Award presented by the WBCA. He became the 25th recipient of the award that is presented annually to an active WBCA coach who exemplifies Eckman's spirit, integrity, and character through sportsmanship, commitment to the student-athlete, honesty, ethical behavior, courage, and dedication to purpose. The award is named in honor of the late Carol Eckman, the former West Chester State College coach who is considered the "Mother of the Women's Collegiate Basketball Championship." Eckman organized the first women's basketball championship at West Chester in 1969 and continued to garner recognition and support for the women's game until her death from cancer in 1985. Cook was the first Division III coach to be honored since the award's inception in 1986 when Laura Mapp from Bridgewater (Va.) College was selected as the first honoree of the Carol Eckman Award.
On December 10, 2009, a house fire claimed the life of his sister, 47-year-old Kelly Preston, in Helena, Ohio. Preston was able to save her 16-year-old daughter and 3-month-old grandson before her passing. The Gallaudet community along with Capitol Athletic Conference (CAC) schools and officials rallied to help Cook and his family by collecting clothing and cash donations for the displaced family. It was Kelly who helped Kevin out with his Parkinson's when he was diagnosed after his first season at Gallaudet (2007-08). He admits that there is not a day that goes by that he doesn't think about his sister. There were times during the 2010-11 season as the team continued to win and earned national media attention that he would call his sister's old cell phone number and leave a message to tell her the exciting news.
While dealing with his sister's death, the Bison finished with a winning record (14-12) for the first time in a decade and advanced to the Capital Athletic Conference tournament for the first time since 2006-07. Gallaudet won more games during the 2009-10 season then the previous three years combined. The 7-9 conference record was the best since the 9-5 mark set by the 1999-00 team. The seven conferences wins are the fourth most in Gallaudet history since it has been a member of the CAC. In fact, the seven wins equals the total amount of conference wins the Bison had over the past nine years combined (7-123). That was the last season for Gallaudet in the CAC after it helped to form the conference in 1989 as a charter member. Also during the 2009-10 season he finished his master's degree from Gallaudet University and completed his fourth American Sign Language (ASL) class.