NOTE: This is the fifth part of a series published exclusively in the Jackson Parish Journal that celebrates the achievements of the six athletes and three Special Award winners that will be inducted into the Jackson Parish Sports Hall of Fame on August 7th. This week: Phil Cockerham
Every so often there comes along an athlete that defies his age. This is the kind of player that upon first glance you would think that he/she certainly had to be an upperclassman and had been a part of the varsity squad for years. It is due to the way they look so comfortable going about their business and the style with which they perform their duties. One way to describe it is that they have leadership qualities. To put in more on a personal note this describes 2021 Jackson Parish Sports Hall of Fame inductee Phil Cockerham.
One of the advantages of attending a small school is that often times an athlete of special talents gets noticed by a varsity sport coach sooner than they would at a larger school. From the years of 1976-90, there wasn’t many smaller schools in the state than Weston High School, who played Class C which is the LHSAA’s lowest classification.
When head baseball coach Mike Staples made the announcement for baseball tryouts in 1976, one of the ones who showed up was a gangly kid in the 8th grade. By the time the season started Cockerham was the starting shortstop. Surprising? In most cases it might be but if you know of the “family tree” that Cockerham hails from it is not quite so shocking. Included are a long lineage of All-District players including several MVP’s, those who went on to play in college and even a pair of Jackson Parish Sports Hall of Fame (JPSOF) members.
“Growing up I was surrounded by friends and family members that were exceptional athletes,” said Cockerham. “I got to watch my uncles Winfred, Wilfred, Bobby, Johnny and Ricky Peel (JPSOF), play while they were in school. While I was young they worked with me and were all inspiring to me in their own way. There was also my cousin, Randy Pierce (JPSOF), who not only helped me when I was young but was my basketball coach at Weston as well.”
Cockerham also is quick to give credit to being able to “hit the ground running” to a couple of close friends who loved competition as much as he did and played a huge role in his development.
“I will also always be grateful to have grown up with my childhood friends, Mark Hale and Jody Wyatt,” reflected Cockerham. “They loved and thrived on competition just like I did. All three of us learned to play hard and smart through the “friendly” competition we had. They are also responsible for much of the success we as a team had during those years and in my mind both deserve induction into the Hall of Fame as well.”
Speaking of the “success” the years from 1976-80 represent, they go down as five of the finest years Weston has ever had in baseball or any sport for that matter. The record shows five straight district championships, a Class C runner-up finish in 1980 and the schools first state title in 1977.
How big a part of this legacy did Cockerham play? From his Freshman to Senior year he made first team All-District. He was named to the Class C All-State first team in both of his Junior and Senior seasons and batted over .400 over his five year career. That doesn’t include anchoring the infield from his shortstop position or the game he won as a pitcher when called upon. More than the stats, it was his field leadership that set him apart, something he says was a direct reflection of his coach, Mike Staples, who is also a Jackson Parish Hall of Fame member.
“Coach Staples was the best baseball coach a player could have,” said Cockerham. “He taught us not to make excuses and to be responsible for our actions on and off the field. He really pushed us to be the best player we could be and would not accept anything but the best we had to offer. We were an excellent team because that is what he expected us to be.”
Cockerham was not only a star on the diamond but on the hardwood as well. He started for the Weston basketball team from 1976-1980 and earned all-district honors in 1979 & 1980. During his career he scored over a 1000 plus points.
Given the legacy left by so many of his kinfolk who came before him, one could say that his exploits in the gym may have almost been expected. After all, being a good basketball player is somewhat of a “Family Tradition.” Adding what Phil Cockerham did on the baseball field you have the kind of career that continues a “Hall of Fame Tradition.”