Senior Night Reflections: There was more to the 2024 CHS boys basketball senior night than meets the eye.
On Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, the Coconino boys basketball team celebrated their five graduating Class of 2024 seniors. After the Coconino Panthers won against the Mohave Thunderbirds by a score of 61-79, I talked with Pathers Head Coach Cooper Elliott about the 2024 Senior Night. We talked about the contributions of each of the graduating athletes.
I tried to summarize the interview into a news article, but too many good pieces were getting left on the proverbial "editing floor." So, I edited the full interview for length and clarity. I hope you like you like the interview as much as I did.
Sean Openshaw: As a photographer, I've spent my whole life capturing what moments look like.
Sean Openshaw: But as I ventured into film and storytelling, I've realized that there's so much more to a moment than meets the eye. My work with Northern Arizona Healthcare has highlighted this even more. It's led me to delve deeper into the stories behind the images I capture.
Sean Openshaw: I want this article to explore the depth and meaning behind the photographs from tonight - the 2024 Coconino High School boys basketball Senior Night. I'm intrigued by what photos can't capture. I'm intrigued by the emotions and the atmosphere that aren't always visible in my photographs.
Sean Openshaw: What does this senior night signify for you and this team?
Coach Cooper Elliott: Senior night represents a significant milestone. It's not just about celebrating the culmination of four years of high school. It's also about acknowledging the years of dedication, effort, and emotional investment these students and their families have put into their sport. Many of these kids have been playing basketball since they were seven or eight years old. Senior night is when they see everything they've worked for come together. They proudly wear their school's name. It's profoundly meaningful for them. It's a moment of pride and accomplishment, a true highlight in their sporting journey.
Sean Openshaw: Each group of athletes has unique characteristics and personalities. How would you describe this particular group of seniors? How does it compare to previous ones?
Coach Cooper Elliott: This group is smaller, with only five seniors, compared to last year's nine or ten. However, it has made an indelible impact on the program. Whether they've been with us for the full four years like JT Begay or joined us later, their journey has been significant. Each senior class is unique. Like the rest, this one holds a special place for their contributions. These seniors have left a distinct mark on the program.
Sean Openshaw: This is your third year at Coco and second as head coach. Could you reflect on the significance of last night's game?
Sean Openshaw: What is your team's current record? What is your outlook for the rest of the season?
Coach Cooper Elliott: We're at a pivotal point this season, feeling optimistic and cautious simultaneously. I believe we're playing our best basketball when it matters most. The team is really finding its rhythm and learning to synergize on the court. Last night's game wasn't just about the seniors. It was also about our team coming together, maintaining high energy, and executing our game plan flawlessly against an opponent that might not be on the same level as some of the other teams we face.
Coach Cooper Elliott: It was crucial for us not to underestimate our opponent, and our performance and the final score reflected our commitment and execution. Our current record stands at 9-7. Looking ahead, the team is focused on maintaining momentum and continuing to build from each game.
Sean Openshaw: Senior night is a significant event. Could you describe the atmosphere? Especially considering the presence of the athletes' families and friends. What is the importance of Senior Night?
Coach Cooper Elliott: Senior night is an emotional experience, not just for the students but for me as well. It's a time when you see the culmination of all the hard work, the growth, and the journey these students have been on. It's particularly touching to consider the diverse backgrounds of our team. Some students come from different countries and place their trust in us. Some of them haven't seen their families in a long time and we become their family.
Coach Cooper Elliott: Witnessing their growth, commitment, and ability to embrace what we offer is incredibly rewarding. Senior Night showcases that growth. It was a bit less emotional this time since we have another home game coming up. It's always a poignant moment, a celebration of their journey, and a nod to the future they're stepping into.
Sean Openshaw: Tell me about each of the athletes, their unique contributions, and their personal journeys. Each athlete seems to have left a mark on the program.
Coach Cooper Elliott: Colby transferred from Flagstaff High School. He didn't get much playtime last year. However, he's exceptionally appreciative and never complains. This makes him a noteworthy member of the team. He's got a remarkable work ethic and resilience. He couldn't play last night because of a sprained ankle. However, he is a key leader and one of our most influential players. We'll miss his maturity and the remarkable growth he's shown over the last two years. I have no doubts about his future success; he's got the right attitude and strong support from home. I hope he'll stay connected with us.
Coach Cooper: Elijah has been with us for two years. As you saw last night, he has improved tremendously. He's my teacher's assistant at CHS. He's the kind of kid who never complains. He just consistently works hard. He's a significant asset to our program, always grateful and hardworking. He doesn't talk much, but his dedication speaks volumes.
Jordan (JT) Begay
Coach Cooper Elliott: JT has been with us for four years, and it's emotional talking about him. He's an exceptional kid, involved in both football and basketball. His contribution to our team is immeasurable, and it's why he's seen as a captain by his teammates. They look up to him for guidance and direction. As of now, he's the captain, a decision made by his teammates for his leadership qualities.
Coach Cooper Elliott: Mike was with us as a freshman and then returned from South Carolina. He has an impressive basketball IQ and shooting skills, as evidenced in last night's game. I'm glad he chose to return to Coco, even though he initially needed a break from basketball. He's been a supportive teammate throughout the year. I see every senior, including Mike, succeeding in their future endeavors. They're resilient and well-raised kids.
Coach Cooper Elliott: Mike has faced the most challenges among our seniors. He's from Nigeria, thousands of miles away from family, and hasn't seen them in years. His journey to get to America is a story of resilience and determination. Despite the challenges, he's an incredible athlete. He's also a beloved member of our community. He embodies strength and ambition. I believe he'll work hard to achieve his goals, including pursuing a college degree. He's truly one of our best individuals, and he's made a lasting impression on everyone here.
Sean Openshaw: What is it about basketball that wakes you up in the morning and keeps you up at night? Why are you so passionate about the sport and your players?
Coach Cooper Elliott: I'm a teacher first, and I genuinely care about my kids. I've told them from the start that they will always have my respect and that they are my students for life. This extends beyond the classroom to the basketball court. It's crucial for me to ensure they grow, not just in basketball but as young men. The feedback from former players reassures me. It tells me that the lessons we're imparting set them up for success. I want them to be good husbands, fathers, and community members. Basketball is a tool for these life lessons, but it's just one part of their larger life story.
Sean Openshaw: Do you feel like basketball is an analogy for life, with its ups, downs, conflicts and challenges, failures and successes?
Coach Cooper Elliott: Absolutely. Basketball mirrors life in many ways, especially this year. It's not always smooth sailing. We face adversity, but how we respond defines us, right? Winning is the goal, but without experiencing loss, you can't truly appreciate victory. Our failures teach us much more than our successes. It's about getting back up, learning, and improving - not just in basketball but in life.
Sean Openshaw: That's so true. The best lessons are often the ones that hurt the most.
Sean Openshaw: I believe moments are more than they appear in my photographs. What do you feel is missing from photographs of moments like tonight's Senior Night?
Coach Cooper Elliott: Photographs capture a lot but often miss the energy and care that fill the gym during a game. Last night, for instance, our kids were completely engaged, regardless of the opponent or the final score. They brought intense energy and care to the game, aspects that are sometimes lost in a photograph. In those moments, it's clear our kids deeply care about the game. They care about their teammates and their desire to succeed. You may or may not be able to see that in the photographs, but you could surely feel it in the auditorium.
Sean Openshaw: The energy you're talking about was palpable last night. I feel like even the most decisive moments captured in photographs can't fully convey it.
Sean Openshaw: Is there anything else you'd like to add about this night, this event, this moment?
Coach Cooper Elliott: I want these seniors and every student I coach to know their contributions to the program will never be forgotten. They are building something significant here, striving for success. An undefeated season isn't the sole indicator of progress. I want every student to recognize their contributions.
Coach Cooper Elliott: I want every student, not just the seniors, to understand the expectations moving forward. They're part of the program's future and success. I believe they'll appreciate the journey once they've completed it.
Sean Openshaw is a Flagstaff photographer, photojournalist, cinematographer and storyteller. Contact Sean if you'd like to capture more than what moments looks like.
There's more to a moment than meets the eye.