CLAIM TO FAME: Cooper has had a long career in golf, specifically teaching youngsters and minorities who otherwise might not have had the opportunity.
Cooper began as a club professional for the Tampa Sports Authority, working at Rogers Park Golf Course from 1983 to 1989. For two years he was the golf director at the Chi Chi Rodriguez Golf Foundation in Clearwater. In 1991, Cooper began the Urban Junior Golf Program in Tampa.
Starting with 30 children, the program became a branch of the Tampa Metropolitan YMCA in 1998, and a year later an official chapter of First Tee, a national initiative which started in 1997. It is called First Tee of Tampa Bay.
One of the program's main objectives is to introduce children to golf. It is open to boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 18.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: "Mike did a lot to get that program started, and he's done so well that the First Tee hired him. He's one of those people you meet who has a genuine - and it's a very genuine - caring for kids and caring about people. You can tell. It's no put-on at all. He just wants to see kids learn golf and learn the life skills that golf teaches. The First Tee is very good at that. There is respect and honesty in playing by the rules, and that's what Mike is all about." - Jeff Hollis, golf courses director for the city of St. Petersburg.
DID YOU KNOW?: As of Sunday, there were 148 First Tee chapters in 39 states - including nine in Florida - Canada and Singapore.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Cooper is First Tee's Southeast region manager. He oversees 36 chapters in 10 states: Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. The Tampa Bay chapter is located at Terrace Hill Golf Club in Temple Terrace.
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "The thing that keeps me going is that we can make a difference in some child's life. For some children, and I was one of them, golf can give you a different lifestyle and a very positive lifestyle. That's what keeps me going, to see the smiles and build the relationships and knowing that golf has provided them with something unique." - Mike Cooper.