Harold C. Cooley Jr. can easily be remembered for the staggering numbers his various East Islip High School athletic teams posted over the years.
But even more than his team’s eye-popping statistics were the smaller, but significant memories, that people close to Cooley will treasure about the long-time coach who died from a stroke on Dec. 18, according to his family. He was 66.
"It was the little things — a simple wink, a low five, a ‘good job,’ a comforting tap on the shoulder — he’d sneak you a piece of gum, and he’d always have [sunflower] seeds," said his son, Harold III. "Those things are so super underrated, but they mean even more to me now."
Cooley was born on Sept. 16, 1954, and grew up in Levittown. His family moved to East Islip when he was in first grade. He attended East Islip High School and played varsity football in 1970. He also was on the varsity baseball team in 1971 and 1972. The left- fielder was one of only 17 players to earn All-County honors in 1972. The All-League standout batted .363 that season, and helped lead the team to a 25-1 record and the Suffolk County title.
Cooley attended Cortland and graduated in 1976. He married Pat, his wife of 43 years, in 1977. They remained in East Islip, where he taught middle school math for 34 years. He was a long-time assistant football coach at various levels in the district for nearly 30 years, including 18 as a varsity assistant. He also coached baseball and was a varsity assistant for 25 years.
He coached girls golf for several seasons, but Cooley was best known for girls bowling. He started the East Islip varsity program in 1985 and quickly created a dynasty. Cooley’s teams won 27 league titles, 13 county championships and three state crowns (2000, 2008, 2014). His all-time record was 410-29-1 (.933 winning percentage).
"He breeded confidence in his kids," his son said. "If he was standing behind them, they were good."
It’s a feeling former bowler Jessica Loud fondly recalls. The 2002 grad was a member of East Islip’s 2000 state championship team.
"You knew that man was standing behind you knowing he wanted you to do your best," she said. "When I think back to girls bowling, I have nothing but great memories and that’s because of Mr. Cooley."
He was named Newsday’s girls bowling coach of the year four different times (2008, 2011, 2012, 2019), and was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame in 2015 — the first bowling inductee.
According to his family, Cooley bowled at least 10 perfect games. But his son has a memory of his father’s prowess for hitting a baseball with incredible accuracy.
"We grew up being on a field with him a lot," said Harold III, who coaches both varsity girls bowling and softball at Commack. (His father was his assistant softball coach the past six seasons).
"He would say to us during practice, ‘You see that pole over there?’ And it was 350 feet away. He’d say, ‘I’m going to hit it.’ And he did. I’ve seen him do that 20 times, and if he missed on his first attempt, he always made it on the second. It was incredible. We would just watch the ball and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, he’s going to do it,’ and you’d hear a loud ding. We’d want to yell, but we’d have to be quiet so coach [Sal] Ciampi wouldn’t hear us."
Besides his wife Pat of East Islip and son Harold III of Huntington, Cooley is survived by his mother Nina and son Patrick of East Islip, his sisters Elanora Bodenburg and Antonia Cooley of East Islip, Theresa Stiriz of Manorville, Nina Franza of Bohemia and Patty Cooley of East Islip. Also brothers Albert of Islip and Otto of Sayville. He has one grandchild, Harold IV.
Cooley was buried at Pinelawn Memorial Park on Wednesday. The family asked in lieu of flowers that donations be made to: The Harold C. Cooley, Jr. Scholarship Fund, 12 First Avenue, East Islip, NY 11730.