JOHNSTOWN - Cody Cooper is the only male participant in the history of Johnstown High School's field hockey program, but that isn't stopping him from fulfilling his dreams within the sport.
A 2012 graduate of JHS, Cooper was named to the United States Men's National Under-20 Field Hockey Team on May 30.
Predominantly a male sport in almost every country except the United States, field hockey appealed to Cooper at a young age.
Johnstown’s Cody?Cooper winds up to hit the ball during the Section?II?Class B?championship game against Glens Falls on Nov. 6, 2011, at Schuylerville High?School. Cooper recently was named to the United States Men’s National Under-20 Field Hockey Team. (The Leader-Herald/Paul Wager)
"I started playing when I was 10 or 11," Cooper said. "I started going to the Johnstown summer league with my sister because she played, and I fell in love with the game."
Cooper played for fun growing up. He spent his freshman and sophomore years of high school at Fonda-Fultonville running cross country and track. After transferring to Johnstown, Cooper joined the girls' field hockey team.
While Cooper's endeavor was met with overwhelming support locally, there were some whotook exception to a male playing on a female sports team.
In a search for "Cody Cooper" online, blogs and articles questioning the decision to allow him to play in high school are near the top of the list of search results.
One letter submitted to the Times Union reads, "He is not a boy; he is a young man whose strength, speed, and agility far surpass an equal age and size girl."
Another says, "How is this possibly fair to the teams that compete against this team [Johnstown] all year and in sectionals?"
According to Cooper, there were no issues until playoff time rolled around during his senior year.
"I think that's because we had beat them before the postseason and they were expecting to play us again, and they didn't want to lose again," Cooper said. "It's not like I was the only one that was contributing to our team's success."
Tracy Ringer, Cooper's high school coach, offered her opinion on why Cooper's participation drew such heat.
"I think part of the reason he stood out was that he always gave 150 percent," Ringer said. "He spent extra hours on the field honing his craft so that he actually kind of did stand out at certain points, but by no means did he overpower my girls. He knew his role and fit into it."
Cooper overcame the criticism. During his two years at Johnstown, Cooper set an ultimate goal for himself: to play field hockey in the Olympics.
"I've always wanted to continue after high school and move up to the next level," Cooper said.
Cooper decided not to attend college during the 2012-13 academic year, instead opting to focus on his dream of playing competitive field hockey. According to Ringer, it was his passion for the game that drove him to get his field hockey officiating license after his high school career was over.
"He knows the rules inside and out," Ringer said. "He's one of my very few players that is very rule-oriented."
He has since officiated field hockey games in the local area, and landed a volunteer assistant position with the Siena College hockey team, thanks in part to his sister, Kayla May, being an assistant coach at Siena.
"That helped me be able to play with the team and develop more skill," Cooper said.
Cooper has also gotten involved with the East Coast High Performance team. The team is set up by USA Field Hockey in order to find the best talent on the East Coast. Any male player that lives on the East Coast can try out for the team. Cooper was talented enough to make the squad.
Despite not playing against a single male competitor in high school, Cooper found that his skill set translated nicely to the men's game. Cooper traveled to Virginia during his junior year and competed in the National Indoor Tournament, an all-male competition.
"I was a little bit nervous at first," Cooper said. "I definitely had to work at it."
With the High Performance Team, Cooper has endured a grueling practice schedule, traveling back and forth to Boston and Pennsylvania for practices that last up to six hours at a time. This past Memorial Day, Cooper competed in the Cal Cup in California, an event that essentially serves as a tryout for the men's national teams. After his strong performance at the Cup, Cooper was selected to the Under-20 team.
"I knew I wasn't good enough yet to make the senior squad," Cooper said. "It's one step up the ladder. It was a big relief when I found out I made the [Under-20] squad."
Cooper will travel to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in San Diego on June 18 for a training camp, and plans to volunteer at Siena College and continue to officiate locally in order to immerse himself in the sport as much as possible. He also plans to attend Fulton-Montgomery Community College in the fall, something he says will allow him to play hockey and still get an education.
Within three years, Cooper hopes to be able to make the United States Men's Senior Field Hockey Team. However, he admits he probably won't be participating in the Olympics unless the Olympics are hosted in the United States.
"The talent here in the United States isn't up to par with those that compete in the Olympics," Cooper said. "We're so far behind on the international stage because the men's game isn't very big here."
Despite this sobering reality, Cooper is thankful for all who have stood by him while he chases his dream.
"My friends and family have always supported my passion for the game," Cooper said. "It's really been great."
While Ringer says it's hard to predict whether an individual will definitely go on to accomplish the goals he set for himself, her message to her players is always the same.
"I tell all of my players, including Cody, if they want something bad enough they can go out and achieve anything they want to," Ringer said.
One year removed from breaking barriers in high school field hockey, Cody Cooper is certainly taking his coach's advice.