Covington, you’ve done it again.
You’ve interrupted our crazy, chaotic world with your kindness. You’ve intruded our routine with your selflessness. You’ve provided us another opportunity to see and feel the tangible expressions of your love.
Every time I think I’ve seen the best of you, you go and show me more. No, I’m not romanticizing you, Covington. I’m not placing you on a pedestal of pollyanna perfection. Every community has its issues. Every city, town and county has its problems and points of disunity.
It’s just that I’m convinced that Covington and Newton County has fewer than most. Maybe I’m wrong, but after watching the outpour and display over Covington Police Department officer Matt Cooper this past week, I can honestly say that I’ve never lived in or worked in a community as tight-knit and as aggressive in its efforts to rally around its residents as Covington is.
The last few times I’ve made these assertions, they’ve come after tragedies or triumphs that directly impacted the sports world.
I was just coming on the scene when I learned of Sean Beam’s passing, but I got here just in time to see how the local soccer community rallied around the Beam family as if the entire area lost one of its own — because it did.
Then there was the loss of local baseball icon Mike Hipps. The trickle of love began with Eastside baseball, but soon the ripple effect spread throughout each area high school’s baseball programs and through those in the baseball community who knew the Hipps family well — and even some who didn’t.
It was so infectious that it caused players from other areas to get in on the acts of kindness — remember the Henry County baseball player and his gesture to then-Eastside senior Michael Hipps shortly after Hipps’ father died?
And as the 2017-18 school year and sports season was coming to an end, we were completely blown away to witness how literally the entire Newton County Schools system bonded to provide a unified wind of encouragement to the sails of the Newton Lady Rams basketball team as it played for the county’s first basketball state championship in almost 50 years.
But at the beginning of the week when I first heard of the unfortunate incident that threatened to take a Covington police officer’s life as he was actively serving and protecting, little did I know it would touch off the kind of rallying we’ve witnessed.
From the outpouring of prayers, well wishes, cards, gifts, donations, etc. that the Cooper family has received from almost everyone, to a community raffle that raised upwards of $64,000, to three kids, Elijah Floyd, JB Smith and Summer Phillips who went old school in establishing a lemonade stand after school to help raise money for the Cooper family, it’s just been one ridiculously others-serving act after another.
Then, of course, the sports community could not be outdone.
Through this event I learned that Cooper is a graduate of Eastside High and a former football player. A throwback picture surfaced on social media Thursday with him and two others standing in Eastside football uniforms at Sharp Stadium, perhaps before or after a game or on a team picture day, maybe.
Because of that, it came as no surprise to me that Eastside was front-and-center in the sports community’s efforts to show support to Cooper, starting with the school’s digital marquee sign displaying Cooper’s “148” badge number, to Eastside’s softball team painting his badge number on its field, behind home plate, wearing comparative helmet decals and black and blue hair ribbons.
In the Lady Eagles’ 12-0 run-rule win over Luella Thursday night, junior Alysee Dobbs smashed a home run in the game and let Twitter know exactly who was on her mind as the ball climbed over the fence.
“Hit a dinger tonight for Officer Cooper,” Dobbs said on Twitter, followed by the increasingly popular #CooperStrong hashtag.
But it’s not just Eastside. Piedmont Academy’s JT Webb, our Week 3 Chick-fil-A Football Player of the Week, wanted to make sure our photographer got a shot of his helmet before she left. That helmet — the one Webb and his Cougar teammates wore Friday night — displayed a decal with Cooper’s badge number.
As did Alcovy’s head gear. When the Tigers took the field Friday night at Salem, they did so wearing helmets fashioned with “148” and a blue stripe going through it. On Monday when the Alcovy softball team travels to play Stone Mountain, coach Miranda Lamb confirmed they’d be wearing blue hair bows.
Even the Newton cross country team got in on the action as well, literally wearing their support on their backs during this past week's NewRock meet, while Newton High's band, "The Sound Factory," donated 25 percent of all concession stand proceeds from Friday's Arabia Mountain football game at Sharp Stadium to the Cooper family.
But perhaps most touching to me, there was a young man by the name of Levi Fleming.
Fleming, 13, plays for the Georgia Select travel baseball team. He wears the number 22 on his jersey, but earlier this week he also sported a blue and black “148” decal on the front of his catcher’s helmet.
His brother, Dillon shared the photo with me via Twitter, also letting me know how Levi was pushing past his own life obstacles to make his dreams come true.
“This is my little brother who has autism wearing (Officer Cooper’s) badge number on his catching helmet,” Dillon said via Twitter. When I asked if that was a detail he didn’t mind me sharing, he said, “No sir. Levi is proud about it and how he has overcame it and still plays the sport that he loves.”
If you ask me in a nutshell what Covington and Newton County is all about, I’d say, “That.”
It’s like a collective indomitable spirit around here that permeates through everything that everyone does.
Instead of people getting so wrapped up in their own struggles or differences that they can’t see past them to be there for others in major moments, the opposite seems to happen here with great regularity. People around here seem to take pride in channeling their strength and energy toward others when those others need it most.
As we continue to pray for and monitor Officer Cooper’s progress, we realize there’s still a long way to go. We recognize an uphill battle for recovery and normalcy is in his immediate path, and we know he’s not out of the woods yet.
But thanks to the outpouring of his Covington community — the one he swore to serve and protect with his life — we can also say with certainty that Officer Cooper doesn’t have to navigate those woods alone.
Thank you for your service, sir. And thank you, Covington for reminding us, in such an otherwise volatile and divisive time in our nation, that it’s still better to stay together than it is to be driven apart.
Gabriel Stovall is the sports editor for The Covington News. He can be reached for tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him and his work on Twitter: @GabrielStovall1 and @CovNewsSports.