Positioned between the bench and Odyssey Black U-16 boys coach Ryan Cook at Saturday afternoon’s game with PVSC Galaxy at the Idaho Falls Soccer Complex was an empty red foldout chair.
Amidst gusty winds and a brief period of late-spring snow during the game, Cook or one of his players would immediately get up to fix the chair when it fell over.
That chair is much more than a chair to Cook and the Odyssey athletes. It is a comforting reminder of Cook’s father and former Odyssey Black coach Dean Cook, who died March 31 in Idaho Falls at age 62.
Upon taking over as coach of his father’s team, Ryan told his new players that the chair his father sat in at every game would be part of their games, too.
“I brought my dad’s chair and told the boys, ‘That’s my dad’s chair. Nobody sits there,’” Ryan said. “It took them a couple minutes, but then they realized, ‘That’s OK.’ They’re OK with that.”
The empty chair was one of many ways the Odyssey Black team paid their respects to their former coach and longtime Bonneville Youth Soccer League president at the 35th annual Idaho Falls Shootout tournament taking place through the weekend. Visible on the right side of the black and gold uniform shorts were the initials ‘DC’ in gold, an idea of Odyssey Black midfielder Ammon Vaughnchild’s father.
Vaughnchild, who is a sophomore at Hillcrest, has played soccer for 10 years and easily remembers his first impression of Dean.
“When I first met him, it was kinda intimidating because he was a big guy,” Vaughnchild said. “He would coach you the same whether you do good or do bad.”
Ryan said the patches on the uniforms were a recent and moving gesture.
“I was touched,” he said. “I’ve been very impressed with the soccer community’s response. The community’s really rallied around us, especially my family.”
Despite having various soccer backgrounds and living within different school boundaries, the Odyssey Black athletes share fond memories of Dean Cook. Koy Bennion, a defender and Bonneville High School sophomore, couldn’t help smiling when recalling his family’s nickname for the coach.
“My family always called him Santa,” Bennion said. “He always did it for the kids. It was always about us. We know why we’re here.”
Timothy Rush, a Hillcrest sophomore, can recall a conversation he had with Dean Cook not long after he started playing for him. That conversation ultimately changed the position Rush played, and gave him a new outlook.
“I used to play defense,” Rush said. “He said, ‘I think you’d be a better wing than a defender.’ He started playing me at wing. When he first said that, I was like, ‘Defense is easier to play,’ but now I like it.”
Midfielder and Bonneville sophomore Matthew Page is a newcomer to BYSL. In the brief time he got to know Dean Cook, he noticed how much he helped athletes who were new to soccer.
“He’d just change (positions) around to what was most effective,” Page said. “He really knew what he was talking about.”
Page said he, too, liked the idea of honoring Dean Cook with the uniform patches for the tournament and added that he and his teammates know why they take the field now.
“He came in and brought the team together,” Page said. “We know what he expected of us.”
Saturday was a busy day for Ryan Cook, who coached his Odyssey U-13 boys team in an 8 a.m. game against Jackson Hole United, Odyssey Black at noon and still had an 8 p.m. game to prepare Odyssey Black for against the Livingston Raiders. After speaking with his wife, he decided to take on the responsibility of coaching both teams for the remainder of the club season.
Ryan Cook said there was much to consider with the decision, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It would be hard coaching two teams, but I appreciate her letting me do it,” Ryan Cook said. “This was my dad’s team. I wanted to take it over and stick with them.”
For a complete tournament schedule and results, visit https://sites.google.com/site/ifshootout/.