Anthony Isaac “Tony” Cook loved basketball.
He was working on his game so he could try out for the South Allegheny High School boys’ basketball team this past winter.
As a child, he always had to put in extra time to be able to dribble and shoot because of weakness in his right arm from an operation when he was 9 months old. He was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to form on nerve tissue.
But Tony never got the chance to try out for the high school team, his father, Bilal Cook, of Glassport said on Saturday.
Tony Cook died of cancer on Aug. 8, 2021.
He was 16 years old.
In January 2019, he had a cancerous tumor in his abdomen removed. He needed an additional operation when the cancer returned.
Bilal Cook talked about his son as he stood outside the school’s gymnasium in Liberty Borough on Saturday where hundreds of kids attended a basketball clinic.
“This is what my son wanted,” Cook said. “He played as long as he was physically able to, and he wanted other kids to be able to play basketball, which was his favorite sport, and all sports.”
Cook and his wife Diana started The TONYSTRONG Foundation. At the foundation’s kick-off event on Saturday, organizers said they hoped to raise money to cover the cost of sports clinics and teams for children in the Mon Valley who don’t have the money.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Kids participate in a basketball skills lesson during the first fundraising event for The TONYSTRONG Foundation on Saturday, April 9, 2022 at South Allegheny High School in Liberty Borough.
Before his death, Tony talked to his parents about doing something to help other kids get into the game. He would often be seen keeping score for his younger brothers ‘teams or heard through a microphone as the teams’ public address announcer.
Tony’s grandfather, Henry Cook, said he could feel his grandson’s presence. He said Tony was always thinking of others. His legacy will never die, Henry Cook said.
“Tony and his family are loved by everyone,” said Lisa Duval, superintendent for the South Allegheny School District. “Tony always thought about others. He was the coolest kid. This was his vision. “
Tyler Boyd pitches in
Being able to be a part of that vision is one reason Tyler Boyd, a former Clairton and Pitt football star and wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals who played in the Super Bowl in February, attended.
He said Clairton is a part of the Mon Valley, which includes South Allegheny. Boyd posed for photos with the young athletes. He helped with a basketball clinic, shooting a few three pointers, and mingled with the crowd.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Tyler Boyd, a Clairton graduate and wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, talks to Aiden Jones, 10, of the Hill District, after working on basketball skills during the TonyStrong Foundation fundraising event on Saturday, April 9, 2022 at South Allegheny High School in Liberty Borough.
Boyd said he loves all sports. Football is No. 1, but he also played guard in basketball and was a shortstop on the baseball team.
“It’s important to give back, always,” Boyd said. “I didn’t get to meet guys like me when I was their age. I want them to see that they can come from right here in the Mon Valley and be successful. “
Boyd commended the Cook family for its passion for keeping their son’s memory alive.
So does Jesse James
Bilal and Diana Cook also invited South Allegheny alum Jesse James, who coached Bilal Cook in high school. James said he remembers Tony on the sidelines and at practices, always smiling.
“Coach Cook led me on the right path,” said James, who played at Penn State and for the Steelers. “It’s about giving back. The morals I have learned I learned from people like coach Cook. I became a man through playing sports. “
Having Boyd and James take part is wonderful, said Bilal Cook, a Division I athlete who played football at Kansas.
“I want to thank everyone who is here,” said Bilal Cook. And not just for being here here today, but for being with us on this journey. When my son told me, ‘Dad, I gotta go,’ I didn’t want him to leave. We wanted more. His spirit is right here in this gym. “
Boyd and James are such outstanding guys, said Diana Cook, a mother of five sons, Tyier, Andrew, Alijah, Abel and Tony.
When we reached out to Jesse, he said he would love to do it. And Tyler’s mom said, ‘Tell us what you want and he will be there, “Diana Cook said.
Hoping to help many kids
In addition to entry fees for clinic and camps, Diana Cook said they would like to pay for children’s sports physicals.
They eventually want to be able to give grants and scholarships for college to have future successes such as James and Boyd.
“I made it, and I want them to believe that they can make it, too,” said Boyd, a Bengals second-round pick in 2016. “It’s about believing in a dream, and if you work hard you can do great things. . ”
Tony’s favorite National Basketball Association players are Los Angeles Lakers Russell Westbrook and LeBron James, and he also liked Michael Jordan. The foundation is raising funds to be able to provide Michael Jordan basketball shoes for children who can’t afford them, Diana Cook said.
Tony Cook told his parents he didn’t want people crying at his funeral. He wanted people to wear bright colors and have a disc jockey and celebrate his life.
“We were chosen to be Tony’s parents,” said Bilal Cook. “It’s been an emotional eight months. Tony was such a pure soul. He had love for everyone. He is my hero. I miss him saying, ‘I love you, Dad.’ “
Tony Cook received wish grants through Make-A-Wish Foundation and Jamie’s Dream Team.
In return, he donated his tooth fairy money and other savings to show his appreciation.
He was able to meet former Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who donated $ 30,000 to Make-a-Wish in his name and took him around the locker room to meet other players.
“We have to look at the big picture,” said Bilal Cook. “Tony told me, ‘Dad, if I die, I will be with God.’
“It’s about God’s Kingdom. We are all kings in God’s kingdom. ”