Cook fulfilling life-long dream

BARNESVILLE – Inspiration is harvested in many fashions.

For Mark Cook, his was partially garnered inside St. John Central’s ”Greenhouse” on Guernsey Street in Bellaire.

There, a wide-eyed middle schooler from Shadyside caught a glimpse of Allan Hornyak while watching the Irish playing a basketball game with his dad.

”He helped me decide what I wanted to pursue,” Cook remembered.

Hornyak, an inaugural OVAC Hall of Famer who once scored 86 points in a game for St. John in 1969, went on to a successful collegiate career at Ohio State.

As for Cook, he went on to a thriving athletic career, too. And he’s still going strong today, as the athletic director at Barnesville High School.

”(Being an athletic director) was always on my short (bucket) list, if you will,” he said. ”It may have come a little bit sooner than later, but I wanted to seize the opportunity.”

That came in 1999, when Cook learned then AD Dave Johnson was planning to step down.

”I was the head basketball coach at the time and he asked me if I would be interested,” Cook remembered.

”I was very fortunate to come into the position. And, secondly, to be under the wings and be able to work under someone like Dave.”

Johnson was, in essence, paying it forward in working with Cook. Years earlier, Cook’s dad, Paul, did the same, providing his son a glimpse into his athletic life.

”My dad was a high school football official and baseball umpire,” Cook said. ”I can remember coming home from school and jumping in the car with him to go out with him to wherever he was going. I really had an interest in that kind of thing.

”There were a lot more schools then, as that was before many of them consolidated. So, probably my interest in athletics developed at a young age.”

By the time he graduated from St. John in 1975, Cook knew he wanted to enter the education field and teach.

Upon graduation from Bethany College four years later, Cook returned to his alma mater coaching three sports – head baseball, JV boys’ basketball and freshman football.

”Basically, my job as a football coach was to drive the bus to and from practice,” Cook recalled laughing.

His biggest success came on the diamond where he guided the Irish to the 1984 regional final in Dover. There, St. John lost to Tusky Central, 7-5.

That summer, Cook was tipped about a boys’ basketball opening at Barnesville. He interviewed for the position. And, after the first choice for the job backed out, got the job.

From the start, he fell in love with the Belmont County school.

”It’s a great community and our school is the hub of the community,” Cook said. ”Our community is proud of the community and what they have here.”

Cook had two stints as head boys’ hoops coach before taking on the ADs job. Along the way, he spent much of his time with his growing family.

He married Melanie Kernik, a Powhatan Point girl and River High grad. The couple have two daughters – Bethany and Brittany.

Bethany is married to Ryan Lucas, a former four-year baseball standout at Drexel University. The couple of two children – Max and Madelyn. Brittany and her fiancee, Anthony Reasbeck, the head baseball coach at Martins Ferry High School, will be married in June.

Since becoming athletic director, Cook acknowledges family time has dwindled a bit. But he said the staff he has helping him has made his job go smoother.

”If you talk to anyone in the OVAC, they’ll tell you the same thing; it’s a 24-7 job and, at times, it takes you away from your family.

”But, in order to be successful, you have to surround yourself with good people. And I’m fortunate to have that.”

From ticket takers to administration, Cook said the folks at Barnesville are top-notch.

”The cooperation is outstanding here and that’s very important,” he said.

Being an AD involves more than just going to games. There’s a myriad of responsibilities to attend to. The least of which involves getting the teams to their respective destinations.

”My biggest fear as an AD is having a bus going to a site to play and having another bus passing that bus coming to our site,” Cook said.

That rarely happens. But safety concerns are always first and foremost in an ADs mind.

”The utmost thing that I feel is important is the safety of those involved,” Cook said. ”We try to do our best to maintain the safety of everyone, whatever that would entail.

”Everything from parking to game management … these are all important aspects of athletic administration.”

As are finding game officials, game workers, scheduling games. If it has something to do with a prep contest involving Barnesville, chances are Cook has a hand in it.

”I’m responsible for all the budgeting of the athletic programs in grades 7-12 and the scheduling of all sports in grades 7-12,” Cook noted.

”You have to have your thumb on everything in the athletic realm, which can be hard to do. You have to visible. There are a lot of public relations skills involved, a lot of paper skills and organizational skills.”

To that end, the evolution of social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter) has reshaped the PR portion of an ADs job. Now, fans and school alumni can track school teams via the web and smartphones.

”It’s a win-win, there’s no doubt about it,” Cook said. ”More people have access to what’s going on.”

One area where social media helps is with state tournament brackets. And Barnesville, and Cook, are big in the postseason. Barnesville plays hosts to postseason wrestling and volleyball events, while Cook is the site manager for postseason boys’ basketball tournaments at Ohio University Eastern.

”We, as a school, have a good relationship with the Eastern District and, I think, in a matter of many years, I’ve developed a lot of relationships and have been in the right place at the right time.

”We at Barnesville just have a great group of folks.”

If you know of someone involved with sports at any level in the Ohio Valley whom I could feature, drop me a line at