As gymnasts sat anxiously awaiting the opportunity to grab a gift bag and hear the results of the Conference 7 championship meet at Lake Braddock Secondary School, Director of Student Activities Mark Martino grabbed the microphone and acknowledged Woodson coach Mike Cooper, who after more than three decades is wrapping up his final season coaching high school gymnastics.
When Martino finished, gymnasts chanted “Coo-per, Coo-per” to honor the well-liked Cavaliers coach. Some of the athletes stood up and hugged him. Minutes later, it was announced Cooper’s time as Woodson head coach would continue for at least two more weeks.
The Woodson gymnastics team placed second at the Conference 7 meet on Jan. 31, earning a trip to the 6A North region meet on Feb. 12 at Lake Braddock. With the top two teams receiving regional berths, the Cavaliers punched their ticket with a score of 132.9, edging third-place South County (131.55). T.C. Williams won the conference title with a score of 143.45.
“I’m excited because since we moved in this conference we’ve always been either first or second,” Cooper said, “so it’s nice to go out, making it to the regional tournament.”
Woodson joined the Patriot District during the 2009-10 season. The Cavaliers won the district in 2010 and 2013. The VHSL underwent a six-class realignment prior to the 2013-14 school year, and seven of the eight schools from the Patriot District formed Conference 7 in the 6A North region (Lee moved to 5A).
Woodson senior Rachael Talento played a major role in the Cavaliers advancing to regionals. Talento placed third in the all-around with a score of 35.95, finishing second on floor (9.275), third on bars (8.925), fourth on beam (8.9) and eighth on vault (8.85).
“He’s the best coach you can honestly have.”
--- Woodson senior Rachael Talento about Mike Cooper
“She did her best that she’s ever done,” Cooper said. “She quit club and she’s trying to maintain everything. The three events --- the bars, the beam and the floor --- she did fantastic. Unfortunately, her vault is not the strongest, but we’re going to be working on that for the next week, trying to get a harder vault.”
Talento reached level 9 with Cardinal Gymnastics before quitting last summer. Talento said she “just kind of burned out” and wanted more time for herself.
“I quit club about six months ago, so I hadn't been in the gym much until the season started,” Talento said. “For this season, I just wanted to come out and have fun, so being able to make it to regionals is really great and … I’m really excited to go out and make my last meet something.”
Talento credited Cooper for helping her get back into gymnastics after a six-month layoff.
“It was hard,” she said. “I hadn’t’ really done anything in a while. I lost a lot of my muscle and a lot of my skills. Then Cooper whipped me back into shape. … I’m so happy I was able to do this with him for this last year. He’s honestly the best and it’s been a great season.”
Woodson freshman Charlie Klika placed third on floor with a score of 9.15. Cavalier freshman Margaret Bushman finished seventh (8.925).
While Cooper helped Woodson finish conference runner-up this year, much of his success as a high school gymnastics coach came at Lake Braddock. Cooper led the Bruins to five consecutive state championships from 1995 through 1999. Cooper also coached boys’ gymnastics, along with swimming and diving at different schools around Northern Virginia.
“He’s the best coach you can honestly have,” Talento said. “He’s very patient and he’ll help you with anything.”
Cooper said he intends to spend time traveling with his wife, though he will continue coaching at the club level.
“I want my fingers in it,” he said, “I just don’t want my whole body in it.”
Now, thanks to the performance of the Cavaliers at the conference meet, Cooper will have at least one more chance to coach at the high school level.
“I do it because I love the sport,” he said. “Out of the decades from the '80s to 2014, I still stay in contact with the girls and boys and that to me is showing that I’ve done something with my career.”