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Four-ever a Coyote; Roswell High community gathers in the Den to honor retiring coach Britt Cooper

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Retiring Roswell High head basketball coach Britt Cooper poses Tuesday with the four state championship trophies won by the Coyotes during his tenure. (David Rocha Photo)
Cooper shows off his 2017 New Mexico state champion ring Tuesday in the Coyote Den. (Shawn Naranjo Photo)
Roswell High Basketball Booster Club president Annette Eaker presents Britt Cooper with a plaque featuring the many personal and team accomplishments during the Hall of Honor head coach’s 27-year career at Roswell High. The boosters held a retirement reception for Cooper in the Coyote Den on Tuesday. (Shawn Naranjo Photo)
All four of the Coyotes’ state championship trophies under Britt Cooper were on display in the Roswell High gymnasium Tuesday as the community gave the retiring coach a heartfelt sendoff. (AJ Dickman Photo)

The records, championships and personal accolades were listed. The mayor made a proclamation. Snacks and cold beverages were enjoyed by all.
But one has to wonder what was going through Britt Cooper’s mind as he prepared to walk off the floor of the Coyote Den — his office for the last 27 years — for the final time as Roswell High’s head basketball coach.
“It’s a busy time of year and lots of other things are going on, so I was really thrilled by the kids, former players and the community for coming out and sending me off,” Cooper said. “It means a lot. You know, it’s tough leaving, and it’s been a great chapter, but it’s time to start a new one and we’ll see what happens.”
The Roswell High Basketball Booster Club put the event together, presenting Cooper with a plaque featuring the myriad of feats accomplished by the coach and his squad. Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh read a proclamation designating Tuesday’s date, May 23, 2017, as Coach Britt Cooper Day in Roswell. The band played the fight song and alma mater and players and assistant coaches on hand had their last mid-court huddle with the retiring Hall of Honor member.
The Coyotes have been very successful inside the Roswell High gymnasium, affectionately referred to as the Coyote Den, since 2009, the year of Cooper’s first state championship. With just four home losses over the course of nine seasons, the Den has easily been one of the toughest venues in New Mexico.
“We’ve always told the kids we don’t ever want anyone to beat us in this building,” Cooper said. “118-4 since 2009 — not many have been able to. From the beginning, home court was a big thing. Playing in here is special. This old gym has a lot of history.”
Cooper coached his last game on the floor of the famed Pit, aka WisePies Arena, in Albuquerque back in March when the Coyotes dominated Capital by 21 points to capture their first title since 2014. So Cooper was appreciative of the opportunity to enjoy a few moments in the Den with some of the people that helped him keep his spacious office over the years.
“Too many people to name, and I don’t want to leave anyone out, but all my great assistants, and wow, all the administrative support we’ve had,” Cooper said. “I’ve been through several superintendents, athletic directors and principals, but I’ve always been fortunate to work with good people in those positions. It goes without saying that you have to have a strong support system to stay this long and it’s turned into something special. It took people believing in me to get to this point.”
For Anjy Cooper, who’s experienced the rollercoaster of emotions from the stands, the event was bittersweet, but filled with optimism about the future.
“It’s been nerve-wracking, exciting, fun and heartbreaking at times,” she said. “The wife — I think that’s the worst role in basketball. You have to sit there and watch, pray and hope. When he wins, there’s no better feeling, but when they have to walk off the floor after a big loss…you’re just heartbroken. Not for yourself, but for them.
“This community has meant everything. They’ve been supportive and energetic. It’s happy and sad, but we’re really excited for the next chapter.”
Britt Cooper is definitely looking forward to some family time with his wife of 24 years, son Sterling Cooper and daughter Desiree Cooper, noting the sacrifices made by his family throughout his coaching career. But the 2015 National Coach of the Year acknowledged that come basketball season, it will be difficult watching his team take the floor without him on the sidelines.
“I’m sure that first game will be a hard one to watch,” he said. “Like going back to watch your old high school team after graduating. I remember that was a tough game for me to watch and I’m sure this one will be tougher because of what we’ve invested.”
While not pretending to be able to predict the future, Britt Cooper said there are a couple things that will not change about Coyote basketball, no matter who holds the reins.
“We’ve got the tradition there now, and that’s a big part of it,” he said. “The community support will be great and the kids are always gonna play hard at Roswell. It’s become one of the premier programs in the state and I think that will continue.”
When a coach retires after coming off a championship run at the state tourney, rumors swirl about the possibility of returning to the floor to lead another team. Whatever Britt Cooper decides to do, the banners that adorn the walls of the Den ensure that he will forever be a Coyote.