In southern Illinois, just across the Ohio River from Paducah, Ky., lies the town of Metropolis, the self-proclaimed fictional hometown of an adult Clark Kent, also known to comic book fans by his other name – Superman.
About 35 miles south of downtown St. Louis, on the banks of the Mississippi River, lies Crystal City, the actual hometown of a real-life superman, former Crystal City High School coach Dick Cook.
Cook doesn’t wear a cape or carry a red ‘S’ on his chest, although one could hardly blame him if he did. But Cook’s impact on not only Crystal City athletics, but the town itself, is nothing short of superhuman.
As girls track & field coach at Crystal City, Cook led the Hornets to six consecutive state championships between 1984 and 1989, the second-longest such streak in Missouri prep history. For that achievement alone, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Cook as a member of its Class of 2023.
But there is so much more to the Dick Cook story.
Born and raised in Crystal City, Cook made an impact on the town – and the school – long before his coaching days.
“I grew up across the alley from the Crystal City High School football field and across the street from the gymnasium,” Cook said. “I watched almost all of the football and basketball home games. My heroes were the high school players.”
In high school, Cook was instrumental in helping integrate the football team after Crystal City voted to integrate its schools in 1954. The next season, legendary football coach Arvel Popp (MSHOF 1990) gave uniforms to three African-Americans. Cook made sure the transition was smooth.
“It was never an issue,” Cook said. “They were never excluded, due to their race, from anything we did as a team. If we hung out as a team at a certain place away from school, they hung with us. If you wore our uniform, you were our teammate. It was that simple.”
On the field and on the track, Cook was a star. He earned 10 varsity letters, won state championships in the 220 and 800 relay. In 1956, his senior year, he ran the fastest recorded time in the state in 100 yards, clocking in at 9.8 seconds.
He chose Missouri over Arkansas for college, and participated in both football and track before knee injuries sidelined him. He turned his attention to coaching.
After stops in Poplar Bluff and Herculaneum, Cook returned home in 1964 to coach football, basketball, and track. He remained at the school for 30 years.
“Crystal City was a destination stop for any teacher or coach,” Cook said. “This is where you wanted to be. Teachers and coaches at other schools envied us. I knew once I was here, I would never leave.”
He had quite a run with the Hornets, spending 25 years as a football coach, including 10 as head coach upon Popp’s retirement. His teams won conference and district championships in football, boys track and girls track.
While he was busy coaching, he also founded the Jefferson County Jets, an AAU track club which turned into one of top outfits of its kind. It became a feeder program for local high schools, and eventually helped send numerous area kids to college on track scholarships.
“Our teams were so successful because of the work the kids did during the summer with the Jets,” Cook said. “They competed in highly competitive meets during the summer.”
In the mid-80s, all that extra work began to pay off. The 1984 team started a streak of six consecutive state championships, the longest in state girl’s track & field history.
Cook won seven district titles and coached 20 individual and relay state champions at Crystal City. He also ran the city pool during the summer, and worked on weekends during the winter to keep the high school gym open all day so kids had a warm and safe place to play.
If that weren’t enough, he spent 13 years on the city council, and three years as Crystal City’s Mayor Pro Tem.
He is so revered by the locals, that on October 23rd of this year he was summoned to the council chambers to be presented not one proclamation but FIVE in recognition of his induction into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. He was received not only the key to the city but proclamations from Jefferson County, and the State of Missouri
That same day, U.S. Representative Jason Smith officially entered Cook’s accomplishments into the Congressional Record, where they will live forever.
As the saying goes, real heroes don’t always wear capes. Sometimes they carry a whistle instead.