Jesse Floyd Cooper, Jr. was born on Feb. 22, 1931 in Belpre, KS to Jesse Floyd Cooper, Sr. and Anne Elizabeth (Barrow) Cooper. He passed from this life Jan. 30, 2013 in Tulsa at the age of 81. Jesse attended school in Belpre, KS until the age of 9 years, when his family moved to Casper, WY. He graduated from Natrona County Senior High School in 1948. Jesse attended the University of Colorado 1948-1952, competing on the varsity gymnastics team and studying physics. He then served a three-year stint in the US Army – Counter Intelligence Corps and was honorably discharged in 1955.
In 1955 while headquartered in Knoxville, TN, he met Freda Hollingshead on a blind date. They moved to Tulsa, OK where they were married on February 18, 1956. They reared their children Susan and Scott while Jesse worked for GASO Pumps, Inc., a local oil field equipment manufacturer. He retired in 1986 after a 30-year professional career that he began as an engineering draftsman and completed as President of GASO.
Throughout his adult life, Jesse was heavily involved promoting the sport of competitive “power” volleyball. His volleyball career began in 1957 at the Tulsa Downtown YMCA. He was practicing on the gymnastics equipment when he was invited to play volleyball on an adjacent court with a team that needed another player. From that moment, volleyball became his sport and he played competitively on a team coached by YMCA physical director Roger Burton. After Roger left Tulsa, for the next 12 years Jesse coached both the men’s and women’s YMCA teams sanctioned by the United States Volleyball Association (USVBA), and played on the men’s teams.
During the 1960s, Jesse directed and organized USVBA tournaments including the National Contenders Women’s Volleyball Tournament in 1968 & 1969. He formed the first team for girls under the age of 15 in the (now defunct) USVBA Region 9. For several years he edited the Region 9 newsletter and acted as the Oklahoma and Arkansas representative to Region 9 meetings. In 1965, for his service, he received the USVBA Region 9 Commissioner’s Honorable Mention Award. He and the YMCA women’s teams conducted referee and player clinics at high schools and colleges in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas. His clinic registration book includes many current and past leaders in local and national volleyball organizations.
He facilitated the formation of AAU and USVBA men’s and women’s volleyball leagues which included teams from Southwest Missouri State College (now Missouri State University), as well as teams from Ponca City and Bartlesville. Jesse was a nationally certified USVBA referee and scorekeeper for several years. He was instrumental in the development of the USVBA Archive Project and later served on the Archives, History and Records Committee. In 1967 he was named to the Player and Team Eligibility Committee on which he served for six years.
In 1976, Jesse and Freda organized, sponsored, and coached the first Oklahoma boys’ Junior Olympic volleyball team which participated in the National AAU tournament in Napierville, IL. This program continued for 11 years, and added to its travel one of the first USVBA junior national tournaments. “Mr. and Mrs. C”, as they were called, were proud to mentor and “parent” these young men, many of whom remained in contact as college and club players, coaches of youth and college teams, officials, and volunteers in the volleyball community. Jesse conducted the Oklahoma State High School Championship Tournament for seven years, and helped the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association (OSSAA) establish its current volleyball play-off format. In the 1970s, he also served on the USVBA Collegiate and Scholastic Volleyball Committee, the Committee for Research and Development, and was an ad hoc member of the Championship Committee for 10 years.
Recognizing that volleyball is a sport for one’s lifetime, in 1985 Jesse organized the Golden Okies, a volleyball program whose goal was to provide opportunities for men to play age-group volleyball at national USVBA (now USA Volleyball-USAV) tournaments and in the Senior Olympics. This program fielded teams that ranged from “Over 40” years old to “Over 70” during its run. Several individuals were recognized as All-Americans at USAV National tournaments, including Jesse in 1994 in the “Over 60” age group. Many of the men who participated continue to play volleyball and are some of Jesse’s closest friends and colleagues.
In 1988, Jesse applied to the Regional Operations Division (ROD) of the USAV to form a new Regional Volleyball Association effectively separating Oklahoma into a separate region. The new Region was formally accepted in 1989, and formed as the Oklahoma Region Volleyball Association (OKRVA). Jesse became its first Commissioner and served until 1993. Jesse wrote the Corporate documents, and obtained the Corporation’s tax-exempt status. He wrote and edited the OKRVA’s first Players’ Manual and Tournament Directors’ Guidelines manual. In 1988, Jesse was named a “Leader in Volleyball” by the USAV and honored at the USAV Open National Tournament in Salt Lake City, UT.
While Jesse was President of OKRVA, Tulsa hosted its first-ever USAV Open National Volleyball Tournament in 1994. He was key in coordinating what was deemed the most successful USAV Open held to that time, involving a record number of teams and a record number of volunteers. This was the last USAV Open tournament to use all-volunteer scoreboard operators and lines judges. In 1990, Jesse prepared the Tulsa facility and organized volunteers for the USA Men’s National Volleyball Team versus Cuba exhibition volleyball match. At the national level, in 1990 Jesse was appointed to Vice-President of the Educational Programs and Services (EPS) Division of USAV, a position he held until 1994.
During his tenure, Jesse advanced the complete reorganization of the division that resulted in the formation of a separate Officials Division, the reassignment of responsibilities of the Rules of the Game Commission to the president, the reassignment of the responsibilities of the Special Programs and Publication Committee to the USAV staff, and the reassignment of the duties of the Coaches’ Development Committee to the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA). At the direction of the USAV Executive Committee, Jesse formed and chaired the “Interface Committee” that formalized the relationship between the USAV Rules of the Game Commission and the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport (NAGWS) Rules Committee. He also chaired the Junior Olympic Volleyball Representatives’ meeting that formed the Youth and Junior Olympic Volleyball Division.
Jesse’s local community service on behalf of volleyball has been extensive. From 1991 through 1996, Jesse organized and directed the Tulsa Area United Way 200-team Sandblazer Outdoor Sand Volleyball Tournament. Since 1991, he has organized and directed the annual 230-plus-team Corporate Challenge Volleyball Tournament and then its successor the Jenks Corporate Games. He helped found the Oklahoma High School Volleyball Coaches Association (OVCA). Each year the OVCA awards $500 academic scholarships in Jesse’s name to deserving high school volleyball players. He has served the Green Country Volleyball Officials Association, coordinating assignment of referees for high school and middle school matches. Since 1995 he coordinated the Jenks, OK Public Schools Interscholastic Volleyball program via the Jenks Community Education Program, helping coach interscholastic teams and providing organization and direction of school and USAV juniors club practices and tournaments, including the recent Volleyfest. He has written the volleyball administrative manuals for the major community tournaments and for the Jenks Public Schools system.
Over the course of his lifetime, Jesse continued several pursuits. He holds two patents in his name, one for an innovative valve arrangement in a reciprocating oil field pump, and one for “Beam Links,” a unique piece of gymnastic equipment. He was a member of and served on the Board of Directors of four different YMCAs in the Tulsa area. At each YMCA, he was instrumental in developing both recreational and USAV-affiliated volleyball teams. He was often seen at “noon-day” open volleyball gym times at area YMCAs and Tulsa parks and recreation gyms.
He developed expertise in another sport, racquetball. He was known to “spot” opponents up 15 points and then defeat them 21-15, or to play them using his non-dominant left hand, and beat them easily. In 2002, Jesse was inducted into the 2001 Class of the National YMCA Volleyball Hall of Fame, and he served on the nominating committee afterward. Outside of volleyball, he and Freda enjoyed retreating to her home state of Tennessee, vacationing in the Smoky Mountains. He was a voracious reader, an avid collector of antiques and flea market oddities, and an excellent archivist.
In November 2012, the Jenks Volleyball Booster Club announced a new award to be given annually to a deserving player. This award was named the Ditolla-Cooper Award, to honor Jesse and his longtime friend and colleague, Jenks volleyball coach Nick Ditolla. Jesse was surprised and deeply touched at this honor. At the time of his passing, Jesse had several volleyball projects underway. He was writing the history of Tulsa volleyball and writing the history of High School Volleyball in Oklahoma. He enjoyed helping his friend Tom Cairns, a University of Tulsa professor and former volleyball coach, with Dr. Cairns’ paper on the aerodynamics of the volleyball float serve.
Jesse’s unofficial title was the “Guru” of volleyball, a title given to him by a local sports reporter in 1995. He was considered an expert in designing and installing indoor and outdoor volleyball net systems for schools and other organizations in the Tulsa area, and consulted for Porter volleyball equipment manufacturer to improve design. He loved to watch and analyze high school, college, and club volleyball and amassed hundreds of hours of 8-mm film and videotape of live volleyball matches, which he was in the process of converting DVDs. He was an experienced clinician, skilled tournament director, dedicated promoter, enthusiastic mentor, and focused student of the sport.
Jesse was always quick to point out that his family and his volleyball friends all contributed to any successes he enjoyed. His wife Freda, children Susan and Scott, and daughter-in-law Jill, all played volleyball competitively, have coached in some capacity, officiated matches at some level, and volunteered at tournaments. His grandchildren Cody and Mackenzie played juniors club volleyball while also focusing on soccer. The Tulsa men’s and women’s volleyball programs were his extended and cherished family.
Jesse is survived by one sister, Janice Cooper of Aurora, CO; daughter Susan Cooper of Lawrence, KS; son Scott Cooper and wife Jill of Claremore, OK; grandson Cody Cooper of Oklahoma City; granddaughter Mackenzie Cooper; many nieces, nephews, and cousins; and a large extended family of volleyball friends. He was preceded in death by his wife, the love of his life, Freda Hollingshead Cooper, and one sister Jo Ardene Cooper Shickles.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, February 23, 10:30 am at Butler-Stumpff Funeral Chapel/Cremation Society, 2103 E. Third, Tulsa.