COVINGTON, Ga. – Before he was a soldier protecting America on foreign soil and a police officer protecting his community at home, wounded Covington Police Department Officer Matt Cooper was an Eastside High School Eagle playing tackle under the Friday night lights for his school at Homer Sharp Stadium.
The Eastside family and the community gathered at Sharp Stadium before Thursday night’s game with Luella to honor Officer Cooper as he continues his recovery from the Labor Day shooting that left him wounded, along with his law enforcement brothers and sisters who work to protect the community daily.
Eastside Principal Jeff Cher said the school wanted to show support for Officer Cooper and law enforcement.
“We are here to say ‘thank-you’ to our law enforcement in Newton County and join together wishing Matt Cooper a speedy recovery along with his entire family as they’re going through the process of rehabilitation,” he said. “We just extend our prayers, our thoughts toward them and they’re always a part of the Eastside family.
“When you graduate, you’re always a part of our family. I actually had the honor to coach him while he was a player at Eastside. For our football team, it’s an opportunity for us as a community to say ‘thank-you’ to law enforcement. For all of us, no matter who we are, just to thank the ones who serve and protect our community.”
With a blue line flag emblazoned with badge number “148” flying beneath the U.S. flag near the west end zone and the Eastside marching band playing “God Bless America,” CPDChief Stacey Cotton and Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown led officers, deputies and Georgia State Patrol troopers onto the field as hundreds of fans stood in the stands and cheered.
CPD Capt. Ken Malcom said the outpouring of community support was not surprising.
“It’s phenomenal. This is not surprising; this is Covington. This is what we expected, with support for one of our officers” he said. “This is a small town. Everybody knows everybody here. They know Officer Cooper. They know his family. People here are as heartbroken as we are.
“It blows us away about how the community continues to support us in such a strong way and more importantly, support the Cooper family because this is going to be a very long road to recovery for him but he knows that Covington is behind him.”
CPD Capt. Wendell Wagstaff added, “The thing that resonates with me is that these teens have reached out to Principal Cher and have expressed that they want to be involved expressing their appreciation for law enforcement. It’s not just one age group. It’s everyone.”
Brown called the event “a great day for law enforcement.”
“Any time we can come together as a family – whether it’s through tragedy, or whether it’s just in general coming together – I think it’s great time for law enforcement, a great time for the community,” he said.
“But one of the thing I’m a stickler about when it comes to togetherness – whether it’s a family, whether it’s a community, whether it’s law enforcement – I hope within the near future, not just law enforcement, but just people in general, I hope that we start doing things that we should do each and every day and not allow tragedy to bring us together to do things that we should be doing all the time.”
After the opening ceremony, law enforcement locked arms with the Eagle football as they burst through the banner to come onto the field for the game.
Cotton summed up what the evening meant to his department.
“We’re just touched by the ongoing community outreach and support that we’ve received – not only for the department, but for Matt and his family,” he said. “I played high school football on this field and I never thought I’d be in a situation like this. It’s really a heartwarming feeling to come on this field and be honored for the work that we do out here to protect this community.
“We really appreciate the fans and the players and everybody else here today.”
Cotton also said Officer Cooper continues to make progress.
“He’s getting a little better every day. He’s fighting a good fight and it seems to be all positive so we’re excited about that,” he said. “It’s going to be a long road, but we’re excited.”