The one waiting impatiently will be Cooper principal Lyndsey Williamson, and the one trying to beat her school is Abilene High defensive coordinator James Williamson. Married 17 years now, the Williamsons have been on opposite sides of this rivalry for seven years, the last five with Lyndsey as the principal and James as the defensive coordinator.
Lyndsey’s Cougars have a 4-2 edge over James’ Eagles since Lyndsey went to Cooper, but that’s nothing either of them talk about. Instead, it’s a mutual respect between the two over hours spent pouring into the lives of kids on the AISD’s two Class 5A campuses.
“This is a tough week, but we keep it light at home,” Lyndsey said. “It’s hard, though, because I can’t cheer against Cooper, but I also can’t cheer against my husband and what he pours his heart and time into. I’m always just hoping for a good game. People around me notice that my demeanor on that night is just off. I don’t feel right about cheering one way or the other. I’m just a little more stand-offish, quiet, and ready for it to be done. It’s a fun night, and I love watching our students and how much fun they’re having, but I’m always looking forward to it being over as far as the personal side goes. Here’s what I want every year: for Abilene High’s defense to play light out, but Cooper to win a close game.”
On the other side of town, James realizes the challenging position his wife is in during the week and knows it’s the one week where it’s impossible for her to root for him and vice versa.
“It’s the one week out of the football season where each of us wants to be successful while knowing we can’t cheer for the other one,” he said. “It’s a hard week for both of us. Normally, she’s rooting for me and the Abilene Eagles, and I’m rooting for her as the principal at Cooper. But this week, we’re divided a little bit. The only good thing about it is that the hours we both put in during the school year means we don’t see each other very much during the week to discuss it.”
Those long hours go both ways, leading to the respect each has for the other.
“For me, when Cooper has won the game, it doesn’t feel great to go home,” Lyndsey said. “And going home doesn’t feel great when Abilene High has won the game. In either scenario, we know one of us is hurting. On the personal side of it, he works his tail off. We don’t see him this time of year, and I know what he’s putting into it. Any loss is hard, whether it’s against Cooper or anyone else.”
Given her unique perspective, Lyndsey says her appreciation and respect for coaches continues to grow – on both sides of town.
“Because I see what James does every day as a coach and what he puts into his job to help produce a successful program, I better understand the pressure put on our Cooper coaches and greatly appreciate what they do for our school,” she said. “James also has a high level of respect for my time as the principal, where I work every day, and how much I pour into our students and staff.”
Thirty or forty years ago, the rivalry might not have been able to handle the Williamson situation. But it’s in a much better place now that the two schools are in different classifications within Class 5A, meaning they aren’t competing against each other for a district championship. That, along with other factors, has lessened the heated nature of the rivalry but not the buildup or on-field intensity that goes along with it.
“You know, you want to be city champions and be able to claim that,” James said, “and that’s one of our goals. You go into the game wanting to win and beat your crosstown rival. But it’s also part of the non-district schedule, so you also want to make sure you’re continuing to get better in the early part of the season so that you’re hitting on all cylinders when district play begins.”
The competition between Abilene High and Cooper is good for the programs, both seeking a return to the Class 5A playoffs in 2023. That competition, though, is different now that they’re in different districts.
“The rivalry is different, and I think that’s better for everyone involved,” Lyndsey said. “I don’t think we could have kept it as light and fun at our house during this week if things were the way they used to be or even the way it was when we moved back in 2007. When we came back here, two guys from our wedding – his best man Ernie Reynolds and groomsman Wes Lambert – were coaching at Cooper, so there was an immediate connection to the Cooper staff. He’s known (Cooper defensive coordinator) Scott Stewart for a long time, and he and (Cooper head coach) Aaron Roan played against each other in the Texas High School Coaches’ Association All-Star Game in high school. Many of these guys on both staffs are from small towns, and they connect on that level.”
As far as the Williamson kids go, Jud (eight-grader at Mann) and Emmie (fifth-grader at Austin) are both set to continue their trek to Abilene High, which is something Lyndsey said she’s not going to stand in the way of happening.
“Emmie is like me because she wants the week to be over,” Lyndsey said. “She doesn’t want to cheer against mom, and she doesn’t want to cheer against dad. Jud, bless his heart, was born an Abilene High Eagle; he will always be one, and he makes that clear. The best he can say to me about it is, ‘Mom if I weren’t going to Abilene High, I would choose Cooper.’ I can’t blame him for that. Some people might be annoyed that my kids aren’t coming to Cooper, but I have said that my career choices aren’t going to affect my kids’ school choices and what they want. The reality is that Jud’s newborn pictures were taken in Abilene High football gear. It’s all he’s ever known.
“One of the greatest joys of being a high school coach is when you get a chance to coach your child, and we would never take that opportunity away from Jud or James,” Lyndsey said. “It wouldn’t be fair to either of them because of my job and career to take that away from them, and people and people seem to be very understanding of that. It’s the makeup of our family, and we make it work very well.”
James sees the same thing in Jud and Emmie that Lyndsey sees. He says it’s part of why their house – divided during this week – works.
“Jud doesn’t see any other path except going to Abilene High,” he said, “and Emmie just wants everyone to be happy. She tells her mom that she’s going to be an Eagle, but then says, ‘But it’s OK, mom.’ We committed to each other to make this work in our family, and I think we’ve done that. I wanted Lyndsey to be successful and reach what she wanted in her career, and she was blessed when this opportunity came along. I think she’s doing a great job as the principal at Cooper, and we’ve been able to manage it all pretty well in our family.”