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Relentless work ethic, deep community roots drive East Hall High senior in quest to make his final season special
Clete Cooper
Clete Cooper drives with the ball against Flowery Branch during the game Jan. 22, 2022 in Flowery Branch. Photo by Robert Alfonso Jr.

Clete Cooper is the ultimate competitor.

Raised on East Hall athletics since he was old enough to walk, it’s all this Vikings’ senior has ever known.

And the past four years for the Vikings, he’s given it 100% in both football and basketball.

Right now, the hardnosed four-year starter at quarterback for the Vikings has his attention squarely focused on playing point guard to the best of his abilities on the hardwood.

Cooper has approached both sports with the mentality that winning is important, but community pride means everything.

And in a time and day when seeing top athletes moving from one school to another is generally accepted as the way the world works these days, Cooper would never give it a thought.

He’ll always be an East Hall Viking.

“I love it,” Cooper said. “I’ve been here my whole life. It means the world to me.”

From the time he was a young child, Cooper was on the front row for basketball games at Valhalla. Now, he’s leading a resurgence with the Vikings (15-5, 4-4 Region 8-4A) as they look to get in the best position possible for the upcoming region tournament.

Up next, East Hall hosts Chestatee (9-11, 1-6) on Tuesday.

“He’s a kid who takes a lot of pride in East Hall,” Vikings basketball coach Tommy Yancey said. “You can see it in the way he plays. He loves this program and he loves winning.

Cooper has been immersed in East Hall athletics since he was old enough to walk. 

His family is as deeply engrained at East Hall as possible.

His father, Jeff, is its principal and was a standout athlete with the Vikings in his own prep career. Clete’s mother, Amy, and his two older brothers (Tristan and Luke) are also both former Vikings athletes.

“I grew up watching my brothers and how they competed and (I) watched every one of their teams,” he said. “I came up knowing I wanted to be like them and to make the East Hall community proud in whatever I do.”

And the homestretch of his high school career produced one of his best performances.

Cooper scored a game-high 33 points on 12-of-17 shooting from the field in a 69-53 win against Flowery Branch on Jan. 22.

He was 7-for-11 from 3-point range.

Every time Cooper touched the ball, the Falcons’ student section made sure they were heard.

Cooper, on the other hand, silenced them a few times with a big shot.

It didn’t matter if Cooper was backpedaling on defense or just running up the floor: he goes full speed 100% of the time.

If any flaw, it’s that his competitive juices overflow sometimes.

Yancey has had to harness that energy on the basketball court.

“I had to explain to him that everyone isn’t (like) us,” East Hall’s basketball coach said.

Yancey wanted Cooper to understand sometimes you have to push people and other times you have to pull people, if you want to get them on the same page.

Cooper took the advice and has found ways to improve as a leader. 

“He is doing a better job trying to see it from their perspective,” Yancey said. “He’s a joy to coach, because he is one of those you don’t have to rev up.”

While Cooper doesn’t need any motivation in getting things started, he is now driven to do something a little more selfless.

He has dedicated the remainder of the season to Hall County basketball legend and Vikings fan Reno Earls. The Lakeview Academy standout, who topped 2,000 career points for his career in 1995, passed away on Jan 11 at 44.

Cooper, who’s best friends with Earls’ son, Imre, now has Reno’s name on the side of his sneakers.

Fans at East Hall always chant ‘EEASST HALLL’ after every victory.

While Earls wasn’t leading the chant, he was the loudest.

Cooper just remembers the impact made upon him over the years.

“The influence he had on East Hall was really good,” Cooper said. “He was there for every game. He loved watching us play. That’s what I’m playing for now, it’s for Reno.”

Cooper is on a mission to get East Hall back to the state playoffs.

He helped bring the Lanierland Championship trophy back this season.

Although he has no concrete plans yet for the next level, he’s talking with Valdosta State, West Georgia and a few other Division-II programs about playing football.

Yancey has also made contact with some college programs regarding Cooper potentially playing basketball at the next level.

Cooper is not overly worried, yet, about the future.

He just knows, whichever sport gives him the opportunity, they will get themselves one competitive person.

“I am going to go where I have the best chance to play,” Cooper said. “They are going to get a person who is going to come in every day and work his tail off. Also try to be a winner at everything I do.”

 

 

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