A woman in a blue shirt holds a basketball while leaning against a metal building on a farm
Nan Cook grew up on the ranch her great-great grandfather founded in 1902 and made her career coaching high school basketball across the Panhandle. Photo by Dave Shafer.

High school girls basketball is huge in the Texas Panhandle. Nan Cook ought to know. The Perryton resident retired in 2020 from a teaching career that included 22 years coaching high school teams from Abilene to Amarillo and in various small towns, including nearby Spearman. “In a small-school setting, it’s fun to watch the community come out to watch the kids play,” Cook says. “At larger schools, you have mostly parents and family members [in the stands]. But here, it’s everyone. You’d better be there on Tuesday night and Friday night, or people will wonder what’s wrong.” Since becoming the Ochiltree County seat in 1919, Perryton has been a center of agribusiness in the northern Panhandle, just 7 miles south of the Oklahoma state line. Cook learned to drive farm equipment as a child, and several years ago turned that skill into an ongoing summer job driving tour buses in Alaska, including at Denali National Park. “It just worked with my teaching schedule,” she says. “I was always done around the first week of August. I met people from all over the world and never missed a day of school.”

Ranch Hand

“My dad [87-year-old Tark Cook] has been a lawyer, farmer, and rancher. He still is. He was not afraid to put his kids to work. I got put on a tractor and learned to drive it at a young age and didn’t think much about it. That’s just what you did on a small ranch. He taught us a great work ethic. He still goes to his law office in Perryton every day.”

 

Life Courtside

“I’m 5-foot-10. I don’t really consider myself tall until I get around my short friends. I started playing in 8th grade in Perryton and fell in love with it. I walked on at West Texas State University in Canyon and learned so much from [Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame coach] Bob Schneider. My first few years of coaching, I used his offenses and defensive philosophy.”

 

Cowdog Crowd

“Our family property is right next to [author] John Erickson’s cattle ranch. When people ask where I’m from, sometimes I’ll ask, ‘Have you heard of Hank the Cowdog? Hank’s my neighbor. We share a fence line.’”

Summer Jobs

“In 2007, when I was coaching at Spearman, I got a phone call from a gentleman who said, ‘Hey, what do you think about driving a combine for me this summer?’ I thought he was pulling my leg, but it wasn’t a joke. So I did it. I’ve planted wheat, I’ve hauled wheat into town, and now I can say I’ve cut it.”

 

Driving Into Retirement

“I went on a cruise to Alaska and spent a few days with my mother, who lives in Anchorage. We took a road trip to Denali and saw all the shuttle buses out there. I thought, ‘I have a CDL license. I can do this.’ I thought it would eventually be a nice retirement job. That’s what it turned into. I work in one of the most beautiful places in the world.”

 

America’s Wheatheart

“Every August, the Wheatheart of the Nation Celebration signals to kids that summer is over and school is right around the corner. I played flute in junior high and through my sophomore year. I always looked forward to being old enough to be one of the first to march down Main Street. The band still marches in the parade every year.”

 

Celebrating History

“I like to take visitors to the Museum of the Plains. It’s everything about Perryton, from farming and ranching to oil and gas production to some of the archeological finds in this area.”

 

Classic Burgers

“You can’t not go to the Dixie Dog Drive In and get a burger and fries, maybe even a hand-dipped corn dog. It’s local and family-owned—the same family has owned it since the ’60s.”

 

Outside Perspective

“I had some friends from Kentucky who came through Perryton around Christmas several years ago. They were so impressed to drive through a small town and see a nativity scene in the park. Those are things we take for granted. We still have that, and that’s the beauty of small towns.”

Town Trivia:

Population:
8,942

Number of Stoplights:
7

Year founded:
1919

Nearest City:
Amarillo, 115 miles southwest

Marquee Event:
Wheatheart of the Nation Celebration, Aug. 19-21

Map it:

Museum of the Plains, 1200 N. Main St.

From the June 2022 issue
The June 2022 cover of Texas Highways Magazine, featuring an illustration of Texas objects and the text "Postcards from the Perimeter"


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The July 2022 issue of Texas Highways Magazine, "Return to the River"


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The July 2022 cover of Texas Highways Magazine, the River Issue


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