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Jerry Cooke

Inducted as a Player in 2009

by Geoff Capell

Jerold T. Cooke (Jerry) like most players of his time, started playing handball with a pinkey, (a tennis ball with the fuzz burned off) on the one wall courts of Christian Brothers School in old Sacramento, where he later attended high school. He played football, baseball and ran track, earning an unprecedented twelve varsity letters. He was one of the best and most decorated athletes to ever come out of that Catholic high school. He was selected to play in the prestigious North/South State Football Summer Cassic at the end of his senior year, where he starred as a running back.

Upon graduation he was a highly recruited running back and finally decided on Marquette University, where he accepted a four year football scholarship. According to Jerry, “I was a fairly good player on a not so good football team and I took a pretty good beating during those college years. We played everyone, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Oklahoma, and it just wasn’t pretty.” He also ran track in college, which was unusual for a scholarship athlete. Jerry received his teaching credentials upon graduation and returned to Sacramento to begin his teaching career. He then graduated from the pinkey to the hard black Ace at the Old Downtown Elks Club in Sacramento.

With his strong football body, his speed and endurance from track, and his baseball pitching skills, he could hit the ball hard and low with both hands and with massive hooks. Jerry was a natural. I asked him how he developed those big hooks serves and he said, “It just came naturally. I used to pitch on the baseball team, and I think that’s where I got it. I never really tried to hook the ball, I just tried to hit it hard.” He was primarily known for his big hook serves in both directions, and many times would run out 21 point games on a single hand in. In my estimation he had better hooks than anyone to ever play the game and that includes the great hook artists like Jimmy Jacobs, Art Decker, Mike Kelly, Mel Sanlin, and Joel Wisotsky.  

Jerry dominated open doubles handball competition in California for many years when Northern and Southern California were one. His favorite playing partner was Bud Miller, whom he won most of his tournaments with. He also played with Hal Solin, whom he thought was the smartest partner he every played with, and Jim Triplett, whom he thought was one of the strongest players he ever played with.

In open doubles competition at the Nationals, when there were no pro or age groups (all the players played in one open division) he got top four finishes at least twice and he also accomplished that feat in the open singles competition.

Jerry would play anyone, anywhere, in order to get the best competition to improve his game. Several times Jerry went on tour around the country during the summer months with Paul Haber, National singles and doubles champion and USHA hall of famer, and with Paul’s right side partner Paul Morlos an accomplished player. They played at fire houses, YMCAs, or any place that Haber and Morlos could hustle up a handball or card game. Jerry probably never saw any of the winnings, but it was just another vehicle to improve his handball game.

During the era of the 60’s and 70’s when handball was a way of life, a subculture, almost a cult, and when brackets of 64 were not uncommon, Jerry played against all the great USHA Hall of Famer players like Vic Hershkowitz, Jimmy Jacobs, Bob Brady, Paul Haber, Pat Kirby, Stuffy Singer, and other greats like Gordy Phipher, and Bob Borbeau, just to name a few.  

Once at the old State Tournament in Fresno in the open doubles competition, he played and beat Marty Goffstein and Ron Earl and Paul Haber and Paul Morlos on the way to winning the championship. That, in my mind, is credentials enough to be inducted into the NCHA Hall of Fame. What an amazing accomplishment.

In 1986, Jerry was inducted as a contributor into our NCHA Hall of Fame, because of his hard and endless work on tournaments, play days, junior programs, and clinics in the Sacramento area. He believed in the old Kendler philosophy that you have to give back to the game that gave you so much. When I talked to him by phone he constantly reiterated how much he liked handball, the players, the competition, and the camaraderie that the games brings. I don’t think there was ever a handball player that Jerry didn’t like.

Because of injures and illness Jerry quit competitive handball prematurely in his mid thirties. That was really a shame, because he would have gone on to win many, many, more tournaments and championships. His absence created a gap that was strongly felt by all the other top players.  

Congratulations Jerry on your well deserved induction into the Northern California Handball Hall of Fame!