Former Bel Air athlete now an assistant principal

It wasn't Valerie Cooper's dream to become a school administrator when she was a three-sport athlete in the 1970s.

But here she is today, sitting behind a desk at Aberdeen High, an assistant principal who enjoys her job and draws constantly on the lessons she learned from her experiences as a student-athlete at Bel Air.

"Sports teaches real-life skills," she said. "It teaches how to cooperate with people and be respectful. It teaches you things you need in the work place, in college: to be on time, to be dependable. It's why in school we have a late bell, because we want you to learn to be successful."

Cooper, 50, an assistant principal for nine years and in the pool to become a secondary school principal, wanted to be an athletic trainer for a professional sports team. But she recalls the 1970s and notes that Title IX didn't go into effect until 1975, and opportunities for women to get athletic scholarships - let alone a trainer's job with a pro sports team - were very limited.

"Now, leagues have expanded and even high schools have dedicated trainers," said Cooper, who was a student at Bel Air from 1972 to 1976. "But I also always thought what I wanted to do was come back to this area to teach and coach."

There were many athletic highlights during Cooper's time at Bel Air. In 1974, she helped the field hockey team to a 15-0 record before entering the state tournament, where the Bobcats finished as a regional champion. Cooper contributed five assists that season. In basketball, she averaged six points, six assists and five rebounds over her career. She helped the Bobcats to a 14-3 record as a senior.

Cooper says softball was her "favorite" sport, in which she "had my most success." She was a varsity player all four years and started at first base for the 1975 and 1976 state championship teams. Her 1976 team was 14-1.

After leaving Bel Air, Cooper moved on to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she played softball, majored in health and education and got her master's degree in science and physical education with an emphasis on physical therapy. She then followed her dream back to Maryland.

A three-year stint as a teacher and coach at West Nottingham Academy in Cecil County led to her return to Bel Air, where she taught and worked as an assistant field hockey coach under her former head coach, Phyllis Hemmes, and then took over the head coaching position for softball.

"I thought it was where I'd always wanted to be," she said. "I was doing what I loved to do. But as I went through my career at Bel Air, I got interested in other things. My interest in education got broader."

Now, nine years into her work as assistant principal - the past six at Aberdeen - she finds she "enjoys the interaction with kids" and helping them be successful.

"I discovered at every level, whether you're a teacher, a coach or an administrator, everyone is doing his or her job for the same reason," she said. "You're here to help the kids do well."

Alumni Report Each Friday, The Baltimore Sun will catch up with a former area high school sports figure. In the spotlight today is former Bel Air three-sport athlete Valerie Cooper. To suggest former athletes or coaches to be considered for Alumni Report, please e-mail

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