Fostering Joy

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His column will appear every Wednesday. >> En Espanol | Read more Ken Rodriguez Articles

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Season-ticket holders cheer on Spurs with foster babies in tow

In a throng of Spur crazy fans at the AT&T Center, George and Pat Cook stand out in Section 226 even when they’re sitting down. George is a 69-year-old grandfather with a one-month-old foster boy sleeping on his lap. Pat is a 68-year-old grandmother with an 8-month-old foster girl resting in her lap.

With two season ticket seats, the Cooks bring a family of four to home games and do not hold back. They cheer the players. Yell at the refs. Go nuts after sensational plays.

"The noise doesn’t bother the babies at all," Pat says. "You say, ‘Go Spurs Go,’ and the 8-month-old smiles and claps. She may sleep for a quarter, but when she’s awake she’s happy. The one-month old – he doesn’t even know he’s been to a game. He sleeps the whole time."

In Section 226, the Cooks have connected with so many, it’s as if they’ve created an extended family. Fellow season ticket holders chat with them. Fans in neighboring seats make over the babies. The ushers smile and ask for details when a new foster child is in tow.

"We’ve become friends with so many people who keep up with our babies as well as we do," George says.

Since becoming season ticket holders during the 2006-07 season, the Cooks have brought 20 foster children to Spurs games. Most are under 2-years-old and drug-addicted at birth. "They just blossom with some loving care and structure," George says. "Most of them go on to be adopted, which is good news for them. It gets them out of the cycle their parents have been in."

The Cooks became foster parents before every almost Spur was born. Antonio McDyess was 2 when George and Pat brought their first foster child home. Tim Duncan was 10-months-old. Manu Ginobili? He was still in the womb.

In February 1977, George was a computer systems analyst at Fort Sam Houston, Pat a Sunday School teacher with two young daughters at home. Pat had left nursing and was looking for something to do when a conversation with a mother at church led to a new adventure.

"We were going to be foster parents for one year," she says.

One year turned into two, then three became four. More than three decades later, the Cooks have cared for 175 foster children and can tell you something about each one. When a child is adopted, the Cooks give the parents a baby book and a photo album. At Christmas, George and Pat decorate a tree with special ornaments, each containing a photograph of a child they’ve touched through the years.

"When they come back and visit, we let them find their own ornament," Pat says. "Most of the time they haven’t a clue so we have to show them."

Many foster children keep in touch. Some return and introduce the Cooks to their own children. A few have gone onto college. Last spring, George and Pat – grandparents of four – received an invitation to the high school graduation of twin girls who had been in their home.

"Their father is a pediatrician," George says, "and they are doing extremely well."

Foster parenting, the Cooks will tell you, is deeply rewarding. It’s also heartbreaking. Once, they received 30 minutes notice before someone picked up one of their foster children. "The key word is you have to be ‘flexible,’" Pat says. "The state can come at any time. You cry a lot as a foster parent."

In their younger years, George and Pat embraced up to four children at a time. As they edge toward 70, they take in one or two. The Cooks care for their foster babies as they did for their own daughters, now 40 and 36. The one difference: Denise and Elizabeth never got to enjoy their parent’s season tickets.

When the foster babies grow up, George and Pat will have some stories to share. Slapping high-fives with players as they emerge from the tunnel. Meeting David Robinson and Avery Johnson. Posing for pictures with Bruce Bowen and Matt Bonner. Getting autographs from Sean Elliott and others.

"We’re going to renew our season tickets," Pat says.

High up in the AT&T Center, in the first row of their section, the Cooks are watching the Spurs battle New Orleans below. When Manu Ginobili drives the lane and sinks a reverse layup, they show their appreciation as no one else in the building can. They smile and pat the tiny heads of their babies, dressed from head to toe in Silver and Black.