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Accident kills popular high school coach

December 16, 2002|BY ANDREW MASON and LAURA ERNDE

andrewm@herald-mail.com

laurae@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG - To know Tim Cook was to want to be Tim Cook.

That's the standard of excellence set by the long-time math teacher and track and cross country coach at Chambersburg Area Senior High School, those who knew him said Saturday.

Cook and his wife, Susan, were killed late Friday night in an accident on Interstate 81 in Guilford Township, Franklin County coroner Jeff Conner said. Both were 49.

"It's just unbelievable, such a tragedy," said Ed Sponseller, superintendent of the Chambersburg (Pa.) Area School District.

Susan Cook worked as a secretary at Shippensburg (Pa.) University, friend and colleague John Ambrosio said.

The couple's two children are both in college, majoring in engineering. Brian is a junior at the University of Delaware and Allison is a freshman at Lehigh (Pa.) University, Ambrosio said.

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Tim and Susan Cook, of 3774 Pampas Circle, Chambersburg, were high school sweethearts, their friends said.

Sponseller said he met Tim Cook while coaching him in basketball at Faust Junior High School. Cook went on to become the only coach the Trojan girls cross country team has had.

"He was the best we had in all aspects. I've never known a finer person," Sponseller said. "He was the epitome of what a teacher should be, a coach should be and a person should be."

The Cooks were driving north on I-81 shortly after 11 p.m. when a southbound pickup truck driven by Sabrina L. Whitsel, 28, of Shippensburg, Pa., crossed the median and hit them, Pennsylvania State Police said.

The Cooks' 1992 Toyota spun around and was struck by a tractor-trailer driven by Douglas E. Brown, 58, of Crimora, Va. The vehicle and its debris then hit a second tractor-trailer driven by Richard A. Montgomery, 29, of Clarksville, Tenn.

The Toyota and both tractor-trailers came to rest in the median and the southbound lane. The pickup landed on its roof on the east berm, police said.

The Cooks were pronounced dead at the scene, Conner said.

Whitsel was taken to Chambersburg Hospital and transferred to Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center where a hospital spokeswoman said she was in serious condition Saturday.

Police were still investigating the accident Saturday night.

Tim Cook, a 1971 Chambersburg graduate, became the school's first state champion in his senior year when he won the two-mile track title. Six years later, he was the first Chambersburg coach to win a state team title, guiding the Trojan girls to the 1977 cross country crown.

In between, Cook was a star runner at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., where he graduated in 1975 and was recently inducted into the college's sports hall of fame.

Cook took over the head cross country and track coaching duties at Chambersburg in 1976.

"Tim Cook is the girls cross country program," said Ambrosio, who has coached the Chambersburg boys cross country team since 1989. "When I first started coaching, I tried to emulate him, and that was just impossible. After a while, I gave up."

Cook's numbers are unparalleled. In his 27 years of coaching Chambersburg cross country, his girls had a dual-meet winning percentage of .882 (225-30), won nine District 3 titles and added a second state championship in 1989.

"He was the best coach in the state of Pennsylvania," said Ambrosio. "Every kid that ran for him felt like a state champion."

Cook's success was directly related to his drawing ability, often attracting as many as 50 to 60 girls on his cross country team in one season. He gave each runner the same attention, regardless of where she stood on the team, colleagues said.

"I was always impressed about how he made the 50th runner on the team feel as important as the No. 1 runner," Sponseller said.

The sense of camaraderie and overall appeal Cook brought to the sport made his team a state power year after year. Rival high schools always knew they were in for a battle when Cook's teams came to town.

"We were fierce competitors," said Harold Travis, who has coached Carlisle, Chambersburg's arch-rival, the last 34 years. "The Chambersburg-Carlisle rivalry goes back a long time. But we always knew it was going to be a good race and a fair race, and that's because they were coached by Tim Cook."

"I just had the highest respect for him," Travis said. "He was such a role model, not only for his athletes but other coaches. So many coaches have tried to emulate him."

Cook will also be missed by his athletes and students.

"I could go on for days about how he touched my life and millions of others, inside the classroom and outside the classroom," said Tammy Jo Allen, a 1990 Chambersburg graduate who was a member of the Trojans' 1989 cross country and 1990 1,600-meter relay state championship teams.

"He was very committed to his job as a teacher and his job as a coach. He not only taught math and athletics, but he taught us morals, about how to be good people," Allen said. "He taught us to present ourselves with dignity, which is how he presented himself."

"You think about his impact ... it's just unbelievable," Travis said. "He had so many positive things going for him. It's just devastating. I don't know anyone who won't take this hard."

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