When John Cooper is out of uniform, his kids put theirs on.
Cooper, a school resource officer (SRO) at Kenwood High School, is the new varsity wrestling coach there. The team opens their season on Dec. 6 at Owings Mills.
"I think being an SRO brings stability to the unit. They know that we follow certain guidelines, and we want our wrestlers to be not only good athletes but also good people and good citizens outside of wrestling," said the 44-year-old White Marsh resident, who brings decades of experience to the mat.
Cooper is no stranger to Kenwood's program, having coached junior varsity there for five years. And long before that, the 44-year-old White Marsh resident wrestled at Archbishop Curley and Drexel University.
"My father pushed me into the sport when I was very young, about 5 years old, because he wrestled when he was a youngster and thought it would be something good for me," Cooper said. "Once I got in, gradually through the years, I came to love the sport."
And the sport eventually came to give back to him. Two Maryland Scholastic Association championships and a national prep title led to scholarship offers. He attended Drexel University for three years, and after leaving, joined the Baltimore County Police Department, where he's served for 16 years. Before coaching at Kenwood, he coached junior league teams in Overlea and Middle River.
"He seems like he has a passion for the sport," said Kenwood athletic director Derek Maki. "A lot of the times, kids might go to him during the day and stop in his office and he has a good rapport with the kids."
He said he sees coaching as not just a way to pay it forward, but also a way to learn even more.
"I've always lived by the philosophy that I don't know everything in wrestling, and I've been around the sport 40 years," Cooper said.
A wrestler, he said, "is a different class of athlete. They have to be team-oriented but know on the mat it's just themselves."
As the new varsity coach at Kenwood, he has what he called a "unique challenge" to bring the Bluebirds wrestling program back to some of its 1990s glory. That path won't be easy, as it starts with top programs like Owings Mills and Milford Mill.
"We're going to be wrestling one of the best teams in the county right off the bat, and it doesn't stop from there," he said. "It'll kick off with a bang, that's for sure."