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It's in the name: Lucas' Shelby Grover lived up to all the hype and then some

LUCAS — From the very first day of her life, Shelby Grover has always had someone to look up to.

Grover, the recipient of the first-ever Mansfield News Journal Athletic Achievement Award, had three older siblings who were going to set great examples, two outstanding parents who were going to teach her the values of life and an extended family who would always be there for her through successes and failures.

She had a Lucas community that would embrace her, protect her and help raise her as a close village does with its youth.

But there was always one special person she would model her life around and it was someone she would never meet face-to-face. A person who would give her someone to strive to be because of the way she lived her life and a person who would end up sharing the same name that would end up being a reason to be a good person, live life the right way and stay on the straight and narrow so she would never tarnish the name in any way.

That person was her late cousin, Shelby Ann Cooper.

Lucas High School's Shelby Grover (3) works with the ball against Plymouth High School's Cailynn Bailey (13) during their Division IV Northwest District sectional high school girls basketball game at Crestview High School Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023. TOM E. PUSKAR/NEWS JOURNAL
Lucas High School's Shelby Grover (3) works with the ball against Plymouth High School's Cailynn Bailey (13) during their Division IV Northwest District sectional high school girls basketball game at Crestview High School Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023. TOM E. PUSKAR/NEWS JOURNAL

Those we love don’t go away; they walk beside us every day

It was October of 2004 and heading home from her boyfriend's house, Shelby Cooper lost control of her car and wrecked on Mansfield-Lucas Road. Her car struck a tree on the passenger side. First responders on the scene believed Shelby Cooper dropped her purse on the passenger side floor and she took her seatbelt off trying to retrieve it. She was found in the passenger seat with the window broken and her purse at her feet.

Cooper's parents, Tim and Tam, were relaxing at home when a family member pulled in and notified them that their daughter had been in an accident. They dropped everything and without a second thought, got in their cars and went to the site.

Paramedics said she died on impact, but they still gave her oxygen all the way to the hospital. One of the paramedics told the Coopers that their daughter was not breathing on her own and it wasn't long after that when the doctors said there was nothing more they could do. Her accident was on a Wednesday and she was pronounced on a Thursday.

When the Coopers returned home, they were lost. Shelby Cooper's homecoming dress hung on the bathroom door and her room sat empty. Understandably, it took five years before they could even remove a piece of her clothing from their house.

"Her room is still painted the same," Tam Cooper said.

"I was just up there the other day looking for my bathing suit," Tim Cooper said. "There were still some news clippings on the wall and I pulled them down just to look at them. There was one up there where she won the MBC her sophomore year in the high jump going 5-2 and I never thought she cleared 5-2. There were clippings of her going to regionals in her freshman and sophomore year in the high jump. She was something else."

And only God knows what she would have achieved in her life had it not been cut short.

"The next two years were a blur," Tam Cooper said. "When we finally made it to what would have been her senior year, we just started realizing all of the things she missed and it was hard. It got better with time and seeing all of her classmates graduate and move away and start families, but we still think about her a lot."

Shelby Cooper's calling hours were from 2 p.m. - 8 p.m. and the Coopers didn't leave the church until around 11 p.m. The Coopers went through two guest books and the funeral home said there were more people who attended Shelby Cooper's calling hours than the mayor's.

Before the calling hours, Tam had to take a minute and went up to her daughter's room. She asked for a sign to know her daughter was OK. She was waiting for a door to slam shut or a small sign, but there was nothing. She walked out to the car and went to her daughter's calling hours, easily the most difficult moment of her life.

But it was on the way home after the calling hours when she received that sign. It was well after the sun had gone down, but on the drive home, Tam Cooper noticed a bright light in the sky. As she approached the family's home, she saw a purple haze over the entire town. It was likely a meteor shooting across the sky, but it was in Shelby Cooper's favorite color.

"I asked for a sign before calling hours," Tam Cooper said. "That was her way of telling me she was OK."

Lucas' Shelby Grover celebrates with her team after a point against Sencea East.
Lucas' Shelby Grover celebrates with her team after a point against Sencea East.

It's all about the name

As Tam Cooper and her family were grieving the loss of a daughter, her brother, Mike Grover, and his wife Kathy were expecting their fourth child after having Jeb, Jessica and Jamie.

Kathy was four months pregnant at the time of Shelby Cooper's passing and it was another girl.

Just a couple of months after the accident during a family Christmas party at the Grover household, Mike Grover approached his sister with an important question. Mike and his wife, Kathy Grover, were expecting a baby girl in February and Mike wanted to know if it would be OK with his sister if he could name the girl Shelby. Tam's only question was what the middle name would be and suggested Ann, the same first and middle name of her late daughter. Mike obliged as Tam gave her stamp of approval.

"They asked and I told them," Tam Cooper said with a laugh.

"We didn't tell anyone," Kathy Grover said. "Everyone was expecting a J because of Jeb, Jessica and Jamie and when we said Shelby Ann, everyone loved it."

The idea to name their daughter Shelby started earlier than Christmas. At Shelby Cooper's calling hours in October, a family friend named John Banks approached Kathy, who was four months pregnant at the time, and asked what she was having. Kathy said it is a girl and Banks asked if she had a name picked out yet. Kathy didn't.

"He goes, 'Name her Shelby'," Kathy Grover said. "I said, 'You think so?' and he said it was the right thing to do."

So, Shelby Grover had her name. And a legacy to live up to. And Tam Cooper had yet another sign from her daughter that she was OK as now, her name would live on through an exceptional child.

"I always knew I was named after her, but when you are young, you don't realize what an honor it is," Shelby Grover said. "When I started getting into upper elementary school, I realized how big of a deal it was to be named after someone so generous and loving. I hear the stories and read the papers about her and you just can't live up to her. Her personality and lovingness were just untouchable."

But that didn't stop Shelby Grover from trying. Athletically, Grover surpassed any athlete to ever come out of Lucas, not just her cousin. She finished her career as the most decorated athlete to ever come out of the school. She earned All-Ohio honors twice in volleyball and three times in basketball. She was an 8-event All-Ohioan during her track career and won the 2023 Division III state long jump championship which is the perennial of all of her achievements in track which includes a full-ride scholarship to Kent State University. She owns numerous school records across all three sports and represented Lucas High School with grace, dignity and honor.

"When I was younger, my focus was all about beating the things my siblings did in athletics," Shelby Grover said. "But when I got older, my main focus was all about being a great person and teammate. I started to realize that I was only in high school, sports aren't the biggest deal, but if I could be the upperclassman that the underclassmen remember as a happy and fun teammate, that was more important.

"I remember when that changed. I started caring less and less about the awards, but they still came, and I cared more about taking pictures, videos, having dance parties with my teammates and just having so much fun at practice."

And the fun never stopped. Shelby Grover and her friend Sydnee Blacklegde always controlled the music during practices and made sure everyone had fun and let loose. It was during the 2022 volleyball season when Shelby and Sydnee were named co-captains of the team. The underclassmen called them "mommy kittens" because they were the senior leaders and the underclassmen were the litter.

Before the tournament games, Shelby Grover always made sure to blast Cotton Eyed Joe so that the team could dance around and let the nerves out. It worked as the Cubs won the first sectional title in Richland County since 2018.

In basketball, it was '9 to 5' as she and her teammates would dance around in a circle just as a simple reminder that the game isn't life or death. It is supposed to be fun and it was OK to make mistakes and laugh about them later.

It was OK to have fun because that is what Shelby Cooper always did.

"My dad has always described me as a happy-go-lucky person and I feel like Shelby was that way as well," Shelby Grover said. "I feel like outside of athletics, I have demonstrated some of her attributes, but not until I was much older. I wish I always represented her in that way. I have a purple bra that I wear under my uniforms and a Superman necklace that I have worn so much I need to get it fixed and that is for her. Being there for everyone, cheering everyone on after every point and every basket is what it is all about."

It also helped to have competitive siblings to strive for, too. Jeb owns numerous rushing records in football at Lucas and Jessie is the girls basketball program's all-time leading scorer. So, athletically, Shelby Grover had plenty of names to live up to.

"It did drive me, but in the end, we are all so supportive of one another," Shelby Grover said. "In any form of competition, I know they always want what is best for me and are the first ones to congratulate me. And that is how it is for my entire family. Aunt Tammy and Uncle Tim are always so supportive and it is so special to be named after someone like Shelby and it will be my mission to live up to half of the person she was."

Lucas's Shelby Grover lived up to every bit of hype surrounding her name and will continue to do so at the next level.
Lucas's Shelby Grover lived up to every bit of hype surrounding her name and will continue to do so at the next level.

Shelby Cooper still leads by example

Shelby Grover never met her cousin, but she feels like she knows so much about her. The family regularly tells stories about her and those who know Shelby Cooper talk about her frequently. But one thing that showed Shelby Grover just how special her cousin was is a split-second, yet very important decision she made.

Shelby Cooper was always one who would look out for others above herself. She was the perfect teammate, a great friend and a caring daughter and sister. The best. So it was no surprise that just a year before her accident when she registered for her permit, she, and she alone, made a very mature and selfless decision.

She wanted to be an organ donor.

"When she got her permit, she ran out of the office so excited," Tim Cooper said thinking his daughter was just happy to be able to drive. "She was so happy when she told Tam she was an organ donor. We didn't know anything about that stuff or that she was even thinking about being one. We talked about it before but it was nothing ever really serious. The night she died in the emergency room and we were told there was nothing they could do unless she is an organ donor and that was like a big moment for us because she was one."

Shelby Cooper was able to donate both her kidneys and her liver. There were three people whose lives were saved because of Shelby Cooper's decision to be an organ donor and the Coopers were fortunate enough to actually meet one of the kidney recipients.

"She got married on her transplant anniversary," Tim Cooper said. "That was very special."

That decision to donate has resonated with Shelby Grover, who made the same decision when she first got her driver's license.

"She was definitely the motivation for me to sign up," Shelby Grover said. "I feel like a lot of people in my family and in the Lucas community has signed up because of her. To be able to give back to the world when you pass is a light in the darkness."

What Shelby Grover didn't know was just how much she could look up to her cousin in athletics, as well. Shelby Cooper was a two-time regional qualifier in track in the high jump, an event Grover competed in at state this year. Cooper was a three-sport athlete and never got to finish out her junior year.

But it was a story about toughness that really connected with Grover. During volleyball season, Grover suffered stress fractures in her ankle. She continued to play through the fractures before missing part of basketball season.

Cooper had a similar story.

Tam Cooper recalled a time when her daughter ran hurdles at Crestline on a cinder track. She tripped over a hurdle and fell scraping up her shoulder and knees as pieces of the track became embedded in her skin and her shoulder popped out of place.

"She came up and told me her shoulder was hurting and I just figured it was because there were all these rocks in there," Tam Cooper said. "I told her to go high jump anyways. Little did I know, her shoulder was separated and she popped it back in when she jumped."

After the meet, the Coopers took their daughter to the hospital to get the rocks out of her skin and the doctors told them it was going to be very painful and that they were going to send the family home with a brush and they could get them out at home.

"They gave her a tetanus shot but wanted us to get the rocks out," Tam Cooper said with a laugh. "So, I took her to a different doctor a couple of days later because we couldn't get all of the rocks out and they had to pick the skin because it had grown over and pull the rocks out. I probably should have taken her earlier instead of having her high jump."

Instead, Shelby Cooper showed toughness and grit much like Shelby Grover did during her senior basketball season when she became a 1,000-point scorer before transitioning to track and winning a state title.

Lucas's Shelby Grover lived up to every bit of hype surrounding her name and will continue to do so at the next level.
Lucas's Shelby Grover lived up to every bit of hype surrounding her name and will continue to do so at the next level.

There is a super hero in all of us. We just need the courage to put on the cape - Superman.

High above the floor in Lucas High School gym is a purple Superman logo in honor of Shelby Cooper. When she played high school sports at Lucas, she had a superstition to make sure she always wore her Superman undergarments under her uniform. And with her favorite color being purple, it was only right to use that as a symbol.

It has grown into an athletic award handed out to a volleyball, girls basketball and track athlete every year as a way to honor Shelby Cooper, who was all about using sports to have fun with her friends and create an impact more than anything else.

"I feel like people are more excited to get the Shelby Cooper Superman Award than anything else," Shelby Grover said. "Kids at Lucas make that award a bigger deal than an MVP award or anything else. It is a bigger award to win than any achievement you can win at Lucas. It is still that way today. It is very prestigious. We would all sit at our awards banquet and talk about who was going to win the Shelby Cooper Superman Award and we never once mentioned who would win the MVP. It is still a very big deal."

After nearly 20 years, it is still one of the lifebloods of Lucas Athletics. It is still something that every kid strives for and everyone wants to be part of.

"Sometimes, we sit back and wonder if it is still worth handing out because most of the kids today don't even know what it is or who she was," Tim Cooper said. "Unless they really get into it and talk about it."

And Kathy Grover, who is the varsity girls basketball coach and on the volleyball staff, makes sure she talks about it. When she announces the award, she makes sure to tell her players how important of an award it really is.

"I just think about all of the kids we lost in the last five years and I just hope those families know that their kids can be remembered just like Shelby Cooper is remembered," Kathy Grover said. "As a small community, we will remember them just like we remember Shelby Cooper."

Kathy Grover gets to pick the Shelby Cooper Superman Award winner for basketball and it is an honor she takes very seriously.

"The winner doesn't have to be the best athlete," Kathy Grover said. "She does always have to be there for her teammates, have fun and do anything you ask. Shelby and I had great talks when she was growing up and she worked hard, very hard, and she was always there for everyone and made sure they all had fun. She was well-rounded and very-well liked, and someone like that is who deserves that award."

Kathy knew very early just how special of a kid Shelby Cooper was. Before she even met Mike, her first introduction to the Grover family was through Shelby.

"Shelby Cooper was the first of the Grover clan that I had met," Kathy Grover said. "I did my student teaching at Lucas and I just remember seeing this little girl and the hallway was her world. She would walk, skip and smile all day long and she just stood out as a happy, bubbly kid. She would wave to everyone.

"One day, Shelby and her family came into Bob Evans where I was working as I was student teaching and I said hello to Shelby and asked how she was. Tam looked at Tim, Tim looked at Tam and they both look at me and asked how I knew their daughter. And I explained how I did my student teaching at Lucas and how great of a kid Shelby is. That was my very first interaction with Shelby Cooper."

Today, Shelby Cooper's legacy has grown. There is an annual golf outing that raises money for the Shelby Cooper Memorial Scholarship which has handed out 51 scholars in 17 years. It started as a $250 scholarship and now is up to $1,000 thanks to the generosity of the Lucas and surrounding communities.

Lucas's Shelby Grover lived up to every bit of hype surrounding her name and will continue to do so at the next level.
Lucas's Shelby Grover lived up to every bit of hype surrounding her name and will continue to do so at the next level.

Taking them with her

For those who know her, Shelby Grover lived up to every expectation in and out of athletes. Her photo will forever be on the wall at Lucas for all of her athletic accomplishments and she will always be known by her peers as a friend. She made her family, her community and her school proud. There is absolutely no denying that.

As she begins the next chapter of her life at Kent State University in the fall, she will continue to strive to carry on the Shelby name as best she can. She also wants to honor a couple of her fallen classmates who passed away in auto accidents. Damon Mauk and Payton Sturts both tragically passed last month and Shelby Grover vows to keep their memories alive while she performs in college athletics.

"I didn't know Damon (Mauk) Payton (Sturts) on a personal level, but you didn't have to to see they have some of the best characteristics you could possibly have as people," Shelby Grover said. "I have never seen Payton mad one time and he never complained. I ran track with him and he did every single workout to the best of his ability and always had fun cracking jokes. He always wore funky socks. That was his signature. When you talk about Lucas Athletics, Payton was never the best, but he always showed up, gave his best effort and was always someone you wanted to be around. You knew if you had a bad practice, you could hang out with him and leave with a better mindset.

"I grew up with Damon since kindergarten. I saw him at Dairy Bell in Bellville last year and I hadn't talked to him in a while because he went to Pioneer and I went to College Now. He would talk to a stranger. He was always smiling and having a blast. He worked hard at wrestling and was always in the gym at Lucas. He would greet everyone with a smile. They both fit what Shelby Cooper was all about."

As much as Shelby Grover has carried her late cousin's name with her during her life, she now vows to make sure to honor her two fallen classmates and her cousin when she leaves for Kent State in the fall to continue her academic and track career.

"I will always try to honor the name Shelby just because of the special person she was," Shelby Grover said. "She gave so much to everyone and everyone has five stories about Shelby. All three of them were people you could never replace, but you will always want to be like them."

Sort of like how Shelby Grover is to the youngsters of the Lucas community.

And while the death of Shelby Cooper approaches 20 years, she is still teaching her little cousin a few things that will stick with her for the rest of her life.

"I’ve learned from Shelby and the stories I’ve heard about her that through sports and other activities you’re involved in, you can make a difference and impact people’s lives and not even realize it and I’ve been told I’ve done that from so many people," Shelby Grover said. "Growing up, I always loved to hear people say I remind them of Shelby Cooper because of her legacy and the type of person she was. In my upperclassmen years, I wanted to show the underclassmen and younger girls how far being a good and genuine person can take you in life.

"Sports are a short era in your life compared to life after and the friendships you build through sports. The teams I’ve had the most fun on are one of the most successful teams I’ve been a part of. You become closer with your teammates that way and just genuinely enjoy the sport. Shelby knew when to have fun, goof around and also when to work hard and give it your all and I hope that everyone follows that concept. Even though I never met her, she will always be my role model and someone I aspire to be like. I like to believe she is my guardian angel always watching over me. She will never be able to be replaced but I only hope to be half the person she was."

jfurr@gannett.com

740-244-9934

Twitter: @JakeFurr11

This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Lucas' Shelby Grover lived up to all the hype and then some