In one of the most demanding disciplines on the athletic palette, Marcel Cooper etched his name in bold letters among Rockland County’s finest wrestlers. He rode a two-year hot streak to the state schoolboy crown and elevated himself to national prominence while representing the U.S. Marine Corps and Army teams during a decorated career in primarily Greco-Roman style of competition.
During his junior and senior years at Nyack, Marcel won 64 of 65 matches, including the New York State 126-pound title in 1988 to cap an undefeated season and give Section 1 its first state champion since 1976. Marcel’s state crown helped jump- start a string of strong Section 1 performances and state champions in the ensuing years. He was a two-time Rockland County champion and two-time Sol Gordon Award winner as the County tournament’s outstanding wrestler.
Over his four-year scholastic career, Marcel won 17 tournaments and was selected as the Most Outstanding wrestler six times. As a sophomore in 1986, he was the Section 1 champion and went on to place fifth at the State tournament. Qualifying for the state meet for the first time ranks among his greatest thrills in high school, Marcel says, along with his state title two years later. In 1987, his only loss was in the Section finals. In an era when eighth graders did not wrestle on varsity teams, Marcel amassed an overall record of 120 wins and only 8 losses.
Marcel credits his father, Melvin Cooper Sr., and brother, Melvin Jr., with sparking his interest in wrestling and providing direction, teaching him all the basics and taking him to youth wrestling programs and matches far and wide. His coach at Nyack, Joe LaPorte, saw his role as helping Marcel refine his techniques and to get and keep him in shape.
“Over my 18-year career as the varsity wrestling coach at Nyack, Marcel was my most successful wrestler,” LaPorte says. “He was a pleasure to coach. Marcel was a fast learner and once you taught him a move, he perfected it immediately. He had a multitude of moves, was strong and quick. He could wrestle well from any position; on his feet, from the top or on the bottom. Marcel could get away from anybody and take down anyone. He was the perfect high school athlete.”
Marcel attended SUNY Farmingdale for two years before enlisting in the Marines. After 12 years of service with the Marines, he shifted military stripes and joined the Army, where coaching positions were open to enlisted soldiers. He competed in the 152-lb. class from 1993 to 2001, then moved to 145 when the weight categories changed.
Where, oh where to begin with Marcel’s exploits on the grandest stages of the sport? How about his two U.S. Senior National championships in 2001 and 2006, the latter title dedicated to his mother, Jennie Jordan? Or his victory at the 2001 U.S. World Team Trials, qualifying him for the World Championships in Greece? Lest we forget, Marcel placed third in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in 2000 and 2004 – which means he was second alternate to the Olympic team twice. Among Rockland County wrestlers, only Charles “Jumbo” Strack of Spring Valley, who made two Olympic teams (1924, 1928), and Tod Giles of Ramapo, a two- time alternate (1988, 1996), have equaled or surpassed Marcel.
The breadth of Marcel’s success on the mat is simply stunning. He defeated several Olympic and World champions and medalists. He won the silver medal at the 2001 World Military championships and the 1999 bronze, both in Croatia. He captured the gold medal at the 2001 Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and the 1996 bronze in Cali, Colombia. Then there were the eight Armed Forces titles – six in Greco-Roman and two in freestyle – as well as the U.S. Marine Corps and Military Athlete of the Year honors in 1999, six runner-up finishes at U.S. Senior Nationals, nine berths on the U.S. National squad, a second-place finish at the 2002 World Cup, and three third-place showings at the U.S. Team Trials for the World Championships.
There’s plenty more, but that should give you a taste of the heights Marcel reached during a competitive career spanning more than 20 years in the sport. Marcel, who is 41, currently resides in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he is an Army staff sergeant and one of three assistant coaches for the Army wrestling team.