PETOSKEY – When he was only in middle school, recent Petoskey graduate Cooper Rokop went through one of the most challenging times he’ll ever experience in his life.
Rokop’s mother, Jeanette, passed away unexpectedly in then 2018 when he was only in eighth grade at Petoskey Middle School.
That challenging time then turned into another challenge taken on by Rokop.
“When my mother passed away, I was in awe of the support from my teachers at the middle school, parents and the community as a whole,” said Rokop. “It made a huge difference at the time to help me deal with the loss. I wanted to do something to thank them and show other kids that have also lost a parent that they can still work hard and do great things.
“I was trying to figure out how I could turn this negative into a positive, so I wanted to be a role model for kids who have also lost a parent. I wanted to do something academically and athletically that no one has done before. “
I know, Rokop set a goal.
After being told of Petoskey Athletic Hall of Fame member Harry Compton’s school record for male varsity letters (13) and later seeing the HOF plaque of Compton that hangs in the hallways of PHS, Rokop set his sights on being the new record holder.
“I kind of looked into it more and I saw I had the opportunity and the skillsets to do a lot of sports, so it was the main thing I wanted to try for,” he said.
Four years later and four sports later at Petoskey High School, Rokop achieved what he set out for, becoming the school’s new male record holder for varsity letters with 14 when his final track and field season recently closed. It broke Compton’s mark that had stood since 1952.
He amassed four letters in both track and field and cross country, then also three in soccer and three more in wrestling.
Those earned in wrestling were the wild card ones, as he needed to find a winter sport and gave something a try that he had no history of.
“That was something I got into as a sophomore and loved it immediately,” he said. “All my coaches were absolutely amazing at making me better and the whole team better. I had no choice but stay in it because I was having so much fun. “
All the while when building his collection, Rokop dealt with injuries, including wrestling with a broken wrist for two years, while also going through pneumonia, bronchitis and COVID during his final cross country season.
There was also some dual sporting going on, which took a whole lot of help from coaches and others.
“It was a challenge, but my coaches, coach (Zach) Jonker and coach (Dave) Farley were amazing working with it,” said Rokop. “Coach Farley gave me workouts to work with coach Jonker and then him working out which games I could potentially miss to get an important (cross country) meet in. All of us worked together. Then my teammates, Sam Smith, Brady Odenbach, Dylan Odenbach and Tommy Farley we were all doing both, so that just helped everyone.
“My dad has been great in helping me and making sure I stay healthy and balancing my goals and health as well.”
During his four-year career across the five sports, Rokop was a part of four district and regional championships, earning hardware in all four, and was also a team captain this past season in soccer, cross country and wrestling.
He was also recently named the Male Athlete of the Year at Petoskey, held down a 4.0 grade point average, earned a state championship in DECA and has kept his sights on that record to be completed.
“It feels great,” he said on achieving the record. “Meeting your goal, the process leading up to it and the amount of work that I put in and seeing how much I changed as a person through it and experiences I gained from it, it’s just phenomenal. Not only do I get a school record, but the experiences that I got from it, those are also priceless. “
Five years ago, Rokop could have been derailed by an unimaginable tragedy, though he instead let it lead him to doing great things in his mom’s honor, while inspiring others along the way.
“It’s important to me that any future middle or high school student who loses a parent knows they can still honor their loss and their community with amazing feats,” he added. “Kids in my situation could use their loss as an excuse for acting or performing poorly, or it can be used as a strong motivator to do great things and make their parent proud.”
Contact Sports Editor Drew Kochanny at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @DrewKochanny, and Instagram, @drewkochanny