Mike Cook was excited to see Mira Costa High School’s boys’ junior varsity volleyball team grow into varsity champions, as he had done with many teams in years past.

But, the fact that he and his players could no longer could be on the court, or in the classroom, was disillusioning, Cook said.

“I’m disappointed for the kids because I’ve had a lot of fun coaching and making them better mentally and physically,” Cook said.

As a new school year begins, Cook hopes by winter, which the usual spring volleyball season has moved to due to the coronavirus pandemic, the teams will be able to play again and make another run at a championship.

He had finished this past school year teaching his academic classes remotely, Cook said, but is taking this new school year off—or at the very least, the first semester of it.

"I don't want to Zoom teach because that's not my method," Cook said, "I want to be in the room with the kids and I hope to come back and teach next year."

He got through this past spring semester though, he said, with lots individual teaching of his 40 students. He enjoyed it, Cook added, but keeping his in-person rigor was too time consuming for virtual learning.

If Mira Costa gets back in classrooms second semester and there's a vaccine for COVID-19, he may go back, Cook said.

A pioneer of Southern California boys' high school volleyball, Cook, 78, retired from coaching Mira Costa's boys' varsity volleyball team in 2008, but never stopped working. Cook then became coach of the boys' junior varsity volleyball team, he said, still assisted the varsity team, as well as taught Latin and freshman English.

He has a record of 26 varsity league championships overall, 627-93 varsity matches at Mira Costa, and an undefeated 2018 junior varsity team among much more. 

Cook started teaching English at Serra High School in Gardena in 1968. He wasn't a coach yet, he said, but grew up playing beach volleyball in his hometown, Manhattan Beach.

Interscholastic high school boys' volleyball came as a club sport in 1972, Cook said, but by spring that year organized teams were competing.

"That year there was a lot of money in the school systems," Cook said, "So it was very easy to start new things."

In 1971, Gene Popko, a retired Inglewood High School PE teacher, brought together 12 high school teachers from different schools ranging from Newport Beach to the Pacific Palisades, Cook said, after one of his constituents expressed interest in starting a boys' volleyball program. They then set up a schedule and started having their boys play against each other as a club league.

Those 12 schools, including Serra and Mira Costa, formed the first Southern California High School Volleyball Association in 1972.

Growing up, "we all used to play (volleyball) at the beach, we just all happened to be teachers," Cook said, "That's why Gene brought us together and got us off the ground."

The men competed for fun and prestige with the California Beach Volleyball Association before it was monetized, Cook said. The tournaments weren't played for money until 1984, he added.

"Other schools saw what we were doing and started their own boys' volleyball programs the following year," Cook said.

Growing to about 40 teams by 1974, Cook said, the association became overwhelmed with new teams that wanted to join, Cook said.

At that point, "Gene and I went to CIF and told them what we were doing," Cook said. Then the "CIF southern section picked up boys volleyball and sponsored a playoff." 

Coaching and teaching at Serra until 1979, Cook's community called upon the Manhattan Beach native to coach at Mira Costa in 1980, and he did.

Although staying "safer at home" by himself, Cook gets along OK, he said, with Sudoku and word puzzles, watching athletics on TV, gardening and even enjoying visits from some of his volleyball alumni from a distance. 

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