When Al and Norma Cooke moved to Stonewall back in 1972, the only soccer being played locally was at the high school level. With soccer experience at the community club level in Winnipeg, the Cookes soon established Stonewall Minor Soccer, an organization that would grow from a house league with a small handful of teams to a thriving organization with more than 600 players.
On Oct. 24, 2004 the couple who brought soccer to Stonewall received a special honour as well as a surprise during the dedication ceremony for the soccer facilities at Veterans Memorial Sports Complex. The pitches will now be known as Cooke Field in recognition of their efforts over the past three decades. During the ceremony their youngest son, Charlie, recalled how there was really nowhere for kids to play soccer when his family moved to town.
Now there's a places for these guys to play and it all comes back to what my parents did 30 years ago, he said.
Norma Cooke, who didn't know the fields were being named after her as well as her husband, wiped away tears before addressing a crowd of nearly 50 people.
Every time I come by this field I'll wish I was out here running on it, she said.
We're just aglow, he told the Argus last week. You don't ever do this for honours, you do it because you believe. When someone honours you, it's really something.
Shortly after moving to town, Al established Stonewall United, a senior mens team that currently plays in the Winnipeg Soccer League, and coached the club for 25 years until about seven years ago. But Cooke, who played with United as needed through his late 50s, had no intention of retiring and instead founded the Winnipeg Grads, a senior women's team. Al remains coach of the Grads and said he and his wife plan to be involved in soccer for a long time to come.
We're not going out to pasture, he said. We've got a lot to do.
Between the two of them, the Cookes ran Stonewall Minor Soccer for 22 years. Al said that when they started out, he had no idea the sport would grow to be so popular.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that we would ever have 600 kids playing out here, he said. There?s more kids playing soccer than all other sports put together.?
Cooke said none of it would have been possible without the help of his wife. The duo was also set to share an award from the Manitoba Soccer Association last Saturday night in recognition of their volunteer efforts.
The decision to name the VMSC soccer facilities after the Cookes was made before work began on the arena. Robert Potter, the town's chief administrative officer, said the dedication was delayed by a number of factors, particularly the delay in construction of the pitches.
We were holding on until there was at least a field down there or the resemblance of a field we could actually do a dedication on, he said.
The completed Cooke Soccer Complex is home to 3 full-size soccer pitches, two mini-fields and a clubhouse