Former Scott City basketball coach, Puxico standout Leon Cookson dies

Sunday, January 8, 2017
Former Scott City boys basketball coach Leon Cookson poses for a photo in 2013. Cookson, who led the Rams to their first district title in 1964, died on Friday.
Scott Borkgren ~ Daily American Republic

Leon Cookson, a member of the undefeated state championship Puxico basketball team and longtime coach and teacher, died Friday. He was 84.

Cookson taught high school history for 38 years, the first nine at Scott City were he also coached basketball and won the school's first district title in 1964. He later taught and coached at Fox High School in Arnold.

Years before the introduction to the 3-point line, Cookson perfected a long-range, one-handed set shot. He sank four in the 1951 Class B championship game, scoring nine points, to spark Puxico's 42-38 win over Waynesville.

"I guess they thought I didn't have a good-percentage shot," Cookson recalled in a 2013 story in the Daily American Republic. "I'd just take my time and arch the ball properly. I had good form and usually didn't hit anything but the bottom of the net."

Known as the Run-Shoot-Run Indians under coach Arnold Ryan, Puxico finished 40-0 a year after losing to the eventual champions in the semifinal and taking third.

Trailing late in the first quarter in the championship against Waynesville, Cookson came off the bench and sparked a run that gave the Indians a four-point lead. Puxico led 25-14 at halftime but it shrank to four early in the fourth quarter. Cookson's free throw put the Indians up 35-28 but with three minutes left they led by just four.

"For the first time that whole season or at any time in our basketball career, Coach Ryan had us stall with the basketball," Cookson said. "That was the longest two minutes I've ever watched a ballgame go on."

Cookson got a partial scholarship to Itawamba Junior College in Mississippi then transferred after his freshman year to Memphis State, which hired Ryan as an assistant coach. However, Cookson was drafted into the military, serving two years in the Army.

It was during that time Cookson married Jewell Cox on Christmas Day 1953.

"I always tell people I wanted to be able to remember my anniversary as I got older," Cookson said. "Maybe I can get away with getting one gift instead of two."

After his service, Cookson worked for General Motors in St. Louis before earning a bachelor's degree in teaching from Memphis State.

Born Nov. 1, 1932 in Puxico, Dwight Leon Cookson is survived by his wife of 63 years, Jewell, two sons, five grandchildren, one great-granddaughter, one brother and two sisters. He was preceded in death by his parents, James Otto and Beulah Kaiffer Cookson, and one brother, Kermit Cookson.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the Brown General Baptist Church near Puxico with interment to follow in the Brown Cemetery.

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