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Karlene Hooker – Connected, Spirited, Invested

BY JACLYN ROSE –

Karlene Hooker grew up in Hope, Arkansas, and graduated from Hope High School in 1974. The youngest of four kids, she grew up on a farm and was very active in high school athletics. Coach Hooker went on to Southern Arkansas University (SAU) where she obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education, with a minor in Biology. Throughout her college career she was a member of the SAU ladies basketball team and for one year a member of the SAU volleyball team. In 1978 she married a man from Polk County and moved to Mena. Coach Hooker hoped to start her coaching career immediately, but with no open positions she first worked as a teacher’s aide and then went to Van-Cove High School where she coached and taught history. Two years later, she moved back to Mena Public Schools as the girl’s junior high volleyball and basketball coach, as well as the assistant senior high softball coach.

After eight years, Coach Hooker went to the classroom full time in order to raise her two children: Deedra, 2000 Mena High School (MHS) graduate and a current teacher’s aide at MHS, Deedra also works with the Virtual Arkansas kids and sponsors the MHS Sci Fi Club, and Brent, a 2004 MHS graduate, who, along with his wife, Sydney, recently gave Coach Hooker her first grandson. “I’ve always believed in being involved and I told my children when they were in High School that I didn’t care what they did, but that they were going to be involved in something. Brent was big into Future Farmers of America (FFA) and Deedra was big into yearbook. I always tried to make sure they were involved in something,” explained Coach Hooker.

After spending several years teaching Physical Education and Health, Coach Hooker took the opportunity to coach Soccer for four years starting in 2001 and then she added bowling for eight years. All together, she has coached a total of 23 years. Currently, she teaches Biology at MHS and will retire after the 2015-2016 school year. In addition to actually coaching the student athletes at Mena Public Schools, Coach Hooker has been greatly involved in all areas of school athletics, as well as other extracurricular activities. “A big part of what I have done is officiate for volleyball. From 1978 until 2010, when I had my second knee surgery. Janice Whorton got me into that. When I quit coaching, the first time, I sat in the stands for one season of basketball and screamed and acted like the fool I was, and I finally went to Coach David Stalhler and told him I needed to keep the scorebook, that if I kept the scorebook I could be quiet, so I’ve done that since the 1980’s,” explained Coach Hooker. Additionally, when she was no longer able to officiate the volleyball games, Coach Lyle asked her to keep the volleyball scorebook. Coach Hooker has not only been a vital supporter of the MHS athletics program, but she has also contributed both time and money to many other areas of the school: the band, FFA, the theater group, the choir. In every way possible, she has supported her fellow teachers and her students.

Throughout her almost four decades at Mena Public Schools, Coach Hooker has coached and taught many students and athletes, and has watched the athletic department rise in success, especially over the last few years. “I think we’ve had success over the past few years for several different reasons. The coaches we have really invest in the kids, they are involved in their lives in more than just athletics. The parents we have with this senior bunch really invested their time and money, the Mena Heat group from years ago is the core of this successful senior class. The parents had invested so much time in the kids that they really had a winning attitude. There was no doubt they would be successful, because they already knew how to win. This bunch of kids are in the National Honor Society (NHS), they are in the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), and they are good students in the classroom and good citizens in the hallway. These girls are not the mean girls, they are quality kids, whether it’s softball, volleyball, basketball. I know when the softball girls were in Dumas for a week [at the state playoffs], the coaches loaded them up and took them to church over the weekend. The coaches care about all aspects of the kids,” Coach Hooker explained.

With her retirement fast approaching, Coach Hooker plans on spending her time sewing, playing with her grandbaby, and junking with her sisters in Hot Springs, and she credits the relationships she has developed with the community with what has kept her in Polk County all these years. “I think the connection I had made with people is why I decided to stay in Mena and not move back home to Hope when I had the opportunity. The year I thought about it, I looked at my class and out of 20 kids, with every one of them I had taught their mother or father or their older brother or sister. This is just home now and it has been for a long time. I enjoy the people,” said Coach Hooker.

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