They had just beat sixth-ranked Lincoln in overtime. Amid the celebration, his players embracing each other and their families on the basketball court, Foss High School boys coach Mike Cocké turned and gazed into the bleachers.
“When you win big games like that and you’re a married guy, one of the things you do after the handshake is you look up at your wife and you smile at her and she smiles back,” Cocké said.
Shannon Cocké wasn’t at last week’s thriller. She died May 26 of colon cancer, which she had fought — and at one point seemed to beat — for four years.
“When you turn back to go to the locker room and everybody is excited and you look up into the stands and you don’t have anybody, it’s hard. It’s a tough deal,” coach Cocké said. “It was kind of a moment I felt kind of alone.”
He addressed his team shortly after in the locker room to congratulate them, his voice cracking as he spoke, but they knew why. So Cocké’s son, senior guard Michel Cocké, approached him, hugged him and said, “I love you, Dad.”
“It was one of those times where a father-son hug was needed,” Michel Cocké said.
Comparing the Foss basketball team to a family is simple with a father-son coaching combo. But it actually extends much past the Cockés.
They say Shannon’s death helped galvanize the team and what they hope to accomplish this season. She wasn’t just the coach’s wife and Michel’s mother; to other players, she was like a second mother and certainly Foss’ biggest fan.
She would have loved to see this season: Foss (13-4; 9-2 3A Narrows) in position to win its first league title since the 2008-09 season — and a win over visiting fifth-ranked Wilson, the defending league champion, at 7 p.m. Friday would go a long way toward accomplishing that. The Falcons are the only team to have beaten both Lincoln and Wilson this season.
Shannon Cocké was known for her postgame hugs, cupcakes and cookies, for taking pictures and cheering loudly when games went well and keeping quiet when they didn’t.
“I walked out of the locker room and got this big, tight hug,” recalled sophomore Roberto Gittens. “I was like, ‘Uh … I don’t know this person.’ But we won, so I figured it was just someone who was really happy.
“Then I was like, ‘Oh, snap. This is Coach’s wife.’ ”
Said senior Sam Dabalos-McMahon, “After every game she was outside our locker room, giving people hugs. It was just a normal thing. She was like a second mom to all of us. She was part of our team.”
After Shannon’s death, Mike Cocké wanted to stop coaching. He said there were times in seasons past where he mentally wasn’t at practice, his mind focused on test results.
But he thought about conversations with Shannon in her final weeks.
“When you’ve been through that and you’ve been in the house for seven days and you can’t stand up because you’ve been crying, felt like you’ve been hit with a bat … but she was telling me, ‘You can’t quit. You have to at least coach Michel through, you have to coach him through,’ ” Mike Cocké said. “When those are some of the last conversations you have, those stick with you.
“Once we got going, I realized just how therapeutic it was just to be out there.”
And not just for him. Senior guard Haywood Irwin, Foss’ leading scorer at more than 19 points per game, transferred from Mount Tahoma before the school year. His mother last year suddenly discovered she had cancer.
“I didn’t know who (Shannon) was when people would talk about her, but I was hearing about her. So I asked (Mike) about it and he told me,” Irwin said. He said his mother was declared cancer free about a month ago and that her hair has started to grow back.
“He was telling me about his situation and that helped me get through what my mom was going through.”
Mike Cocké wears a rubber bracelet around his wrist. It reads, “We can choose to live the unknown.” It was a quote Shannon became known for and embodied in her battle with cancer to the end, and now one the Cocké family is trying to continue.
As Mike Cocké has discovered, he has more than his two sons, Michel and Carter, 9, and daughter Mae, 6, to call family. They have their Foss family.
“I’m a realist and I know winning a state championship is such an amazing thing and a tough thing to do,” Mike Cocké said. “But if kids can learn from this experience and the life skills to go be better people, that’s way more important to me than winning games.”
But especially in the big ones, Mike and Michel say they still feel Shannon there.
“It’s like I have an extra support from something,” Mike Cocké said. “If it’s her or it’s just me in my imagination, or what, I just feel like she guides me through things. If anything, she is an inspiration.”
“It’s been a tough journey,” Michel Cocké said. “I just want to play for her. Win league, do this for her. She would have loved to see it.”