Staff Writer
In the summer of 2014, Aisling Cooke was a headstrong incoming freshman at Mainland Regional High School who was determined to make the girls soccer varsity roster. In one of the final few scrimmage games she had an opportunity to score a goal, but passed the ball. Her mother, Deirdre, told her after the game that if she wanted to make the varsity roster, she needed to score when she got the opportunity so she could show the Mustangs’ coaching staff what kind of talent she possessed. Aisling explained that the reason she passed the ball was because her friend hadn’t scored any goals, and she wanted her to be the one to put the ball into the back of the net.
“Her last game (a scrimmage against Cedar Creek) she scored two goals, and she called me and said, ‘dad, I think I made it (onto varsity),” recalls her father, Hugh. “She could play any position on the field. A coach could tell her to go anywhere, and she could go and do it.”
Aisling never got a chance to play in a varsity game. She was traveling with several other Mainland players to a charity soccer event in late August when the car she was riding in was involved in a bad accident. She was on life support for several days before she died from her injuries on Sept. 3, 2014. Losing Aisling at just 14 years old had a profound effect on her teammates, classmates and family, and the past four years have been a running tribute to her and the impact she had in her short time on Earth.
Players on just about every sports team at Mainland have religiously worn green arm bands, wrist bands and headbands with her initials, A.C., and her jersey No. 4.
“It’s incredible. You can’t put words to it. They’ve truly honored her, and you can tell they each feel there is something bigger than themselves. I think that really played out in how they played as a team. They all worked hard. Aisling was a hard worker, and they honored her by working hard and earning everything they got. The kids have really kept us going. They think about her, they wear the arm bands and the wristbands, the stickers on the cars. They think about her, especially when they are making choices and decisions. They are an incredible group of kids, and so many of them — besides playing sports in college — are going into the medical field,” Deirdre said. “They rely on her to be there for them. They look for the signs. They truly believe she is with them, and I know she sends them the signs, and I think that helps them when they go through their daily struggles.”

Stickers featuring a green heart with “Aisling #4” inside can be seen throughout Atlantic County on cars, in memory of Aisling Cooke, who was killed in a car accident a few days before beginning her freshman year at Mainland in 2014. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)

“She was probably the nicest girl ever. She was always smiling and never said a bad word about anybody. We all played with the Aisling bands on throughout our four years, and I’ll probably still wear it when I play intramural sports in college,” said Dan Adams, a recent graduate who played soccer and lacrosse. “They are like family to us, and it’s good that we have that. They live for Aisling through us. They come to all the games, watch girls soccer, boys soccer, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse. They love supporting Mainland sports and we love supporting them, too.”
“Even outside of high school, on our club teams, everybody would wear the green bands. She was a student-athlete just like us and she could have been the girl who would be the Female Senior of the Year. Her parents are awesome. They come to every soccer game, every lacrosse game. They’ve been our biggest supporters and have been there through everything,” added Adams soccer and lacrosse teammate, Keegan Ford. “We think about Aisling and know she is with us all the time. We see (the Cookes) as family. They are our family now. There are hugs every time we see them.”
Aisling was a tremendous student-athlete during her days at Belhaven Middle School in Linwood and likely would have been one of the top players on Mainland’s soccer and lacrosse teams. She would have graduated this June along with all her teammates and classmates, but it’s doubtful she will be forgotten. Her younger brother, Colin, just finished up his sophomore year and is a budding star on the lacrosse team, and her framed basketball jersey will forever hang in the halls of Belhaven.
“It’s helped us, what they are doing, and they are going to continue to do it. It’s made it easier for us to get through the last four years,” Hugh Cooke said.
“I never look at it as us giving them anything because I feel like they are always there for us and keep us going. They are such good kids. They include us in group chats and it’s just so nice for me to know what’s going on in the life of an 18-year-old because we’re missing that. They definitely fill our lives with a lot of love and fun, and we thoroughly enjoy watching them compete, knowing how hard they have worked,” Deirdre said. “She spent so many hours with these coaches and teammates. The Mainland coaches gave her a varsity letter (posthumously) and Brian Coyle framed her Belhaven basketball jersey for us, and they hung up her framed basketball jersey at Belhaven so that she’ll never be forgotten. She enjoyed all those kids so much and I know she’ll always look after them, and them knowing she’ll always look after them is important to them.”
The athletes in this year’s senior class say they feel as though Aisling has been there, watching over them, throughout their high school careers.

Prior to a Mainland Regional boys soccer playoff game, Cooke’s classmate, Alyssa Aldridge, snapped this photo of clouds in the form of an angel. Cooke’s mother, Deirdre, took it as a sign that her daughter was watching over her classmates that day. (Submitted photo)

“We knew that after that happened, every game she would have been in, she was with us in spirit. Every win, she was there to help us. Just keeping her name around in the community is so important, not only to her family, but to us as well,” said Molly O’Shea, a soccer and lacrosse player. “Even at graduation, we all had green ribbons for her. To have that green all around is so important because she would have been right along with us in every game. We know how hard it is because we experience it, too, so all of Aisling’s friends and family coming together and sharing stories, even four years later, helps us all get through it. It means so much because Aisling is there helping us in every game, and for her family to be at our games really motivates us to give everything we have on the field because we know she would.”
“She was a fierce competitor and expected a lot from her teammates, and would let them know when she wasn’t happy with them. She put it all out there. She also understood that nothing was given and she understood hard work, and she was so proud when her hard work led to accomplishments she had in her short life,” Deirdre said. “I rely on them for the strength. I think they are very strong kids. They’ve had huge accomplishments the last four years. They are strong, fun and nice, and they look after Colin. Especially the lacrosse seniors, they were such a strong group and it was a great opportunity for him to play with them. We worry about him, and it’s so comforting to know that they are there for him.
“It’s always been good (seeing the arm bands and stickers), just knowing that they are thinking of her,” she added. “That’s one of our biggest fears, that she won’t be remembered, but they always remember her. They are so forthright that she is here with them. After the Ocean City game the boys came up to me and said, ‘she’s here with us.’ It’s incredible. We’re very blessed to have all of them in our lives, and we hope to continue to be in their lives. The core group has always been close, and all their parents have always been very supportive.”
Several athletes chose to wear No. 4 on their respective teams to honor Aisling.
“It’s special knowing that the kids intentionally chose that, like Dean Hall chose number 4 in football, Gavin Somers wanted to wear the number in lacrosse,” Deirdre said. “She had a great relationship with all those kids, the girls and the boys, on and off the field.”
It’s been difficult these past four years for the Cooke family. Colin is without a big sister to lean on for support, and all those first and lasts — the first goal scored, first date, first prom, the last game as a senior, graduation — are things that Deirdre and Hugh missed out on with their only daughter. But the Cooke family knows Aisling will never be forgotten. They see reminders of her every day around town.
“Even driving around, seeing the green Aisling stickers on cars is good for us,” Hugh said. “They seem to pop up everywhere.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays