Brody Cook usually wears a white watch. Parker Cook doesn’t.
That’s how Northwest Whitfield cross country coach Tom Sell can tell the identical twins apart when one crosses the finish line a second before the other.
Even then, the tactic isn’t foolproof.
Brody and Parker have been the time leaders this season for Northwest’s boys, who along with the Lady Bruins will compete in the Class 4A state meet Saturday in Carrollton.
The top four teams and top six individual finishers at each region meet qualified for the trip to Carrollton, and Dalton’s boys will also run in the 4A title race, while the Lady Catamounts’ Bekah Houston will compete as an individual. Other local teams competing are Coahulla Creek’s boys and girls and North Murray’s boys in Class 3A and Murray County’s boys in Class 2A.
This will be the second trip to state in four seasons for the Cooks, who are seniors and have been varsity starters since they were freshmen — by their sophomore year, when they made their previous trip to state, their times throughout the season were among the fastest for the Bruins.
At the 2010 Class 4A state meet, Brody finished the 5K course in 17 minutes, 52 seconds to place 71st in the 230-runner field, while Parker was 76th in 17:56.
But after four years coaching the two, Sell still has trouble distinguishing who is who. Brody was born seven minutes earlier than Parker on May 28, 1994, and is no more than 1 inch taller. Aside from that, the clothes they wear and Brody’s typical timekeeper on his wrist, they live up to their status as “identical” twins.
“It used to be nice (their) freshman year when Brody had a buzz cut,” Sell said. “... I go on watches and shoes, and I always guess wrong. If they come in with a different watch or shoe and I’ll say, ‘Parker,’ and it’ll be Brody. So lately I’ve started to catch myself right before I say it and say the total opposite of my gut feeling. I’ve only done that once. If I go with my gut feeling, then I’m wrong 100 percent of the time.”
In last Thursday’s Region 7-4A meet at Roper Park in Jasper, the pair finished as the top two for Northwest, coming in back to back.
Brody was fourth in 17:18 and Parker was a second behind at fifth.
That type of finish has not been uncommon for the Cooks throughout their high school cross country days. Brody and Parker finished first and second at a September meet in Edwards Park — just four seconds apart — while Brody won Dalton High’s “Big Harry” race in October at Lakeshore Park, with Parker finishing three seconds behind in third.
“We’ve had races earlier this year where it was less than a second,” Brody said.
Before this season, the difference was around 30 seconds, but the winner of the sibling rivalry tended to be interchangeable from race to race.
“It goes back and forth,” Brody said. “It goes by the last race. ... I go off of trying to beat him, and he goes off trying to beat me. It keeps us running good splits and stuff.”
Said Sell, “Usually it’s about a 30- or 40-second difference. That’s the crazy thing in the past. This year it has been closer, but it was 30 or 40 seconds in the past. And it never was the same person winning.”
And even then, Sell and others can’t be sure exactly who won.
“I always felt bad not knowing them apart,” Sell said. “I was standing with their dad one race. He was saying, ‘OK, go Brody. Go.’ Then he said, ‘Oh wait.’ They were running by in a race about 20 feet away.”
Sell believes the personalities are just as similar as the physical attributes. Brody and Parker disagree.
“I think our personalities are a lot different,” Parker said. “Brody is probably more outspoken than me.”
They train together in the offseason and organize runs with more than just the Cook family, taking on leadership roles for the Bruins.
“If we come and run, it’s together,” Brody said. “We have ran separate in the offseason, but we’ve found that when we run together it’s more effective.”
Said Parker, “Not just us, either. We’ll get others on the team to run with us.”
Brody and Parker share the same group of friends, who have no trouble keeping them straight.
“Friends can tell the difference right off the bat,” Parker said. “It’s like we’re totally different people.”
Their teammates have different strategies to tell them apart.
“I can tell because they run a different way, too,” Shelby Wilson said. “Parker runs more upright.”
Senior Dalton Ash said it has something to do with their facial bone structure.
“There’s something about the faces,” he said. “Maybe it’s the jaw, but I can always tell. ... I’m used to it, and you’d think after four years (coach Sell) would be.”
Sell cannot deny Ash’s rib.
“I don’t study them enough to know,” he said. “I just know that for four years they’ve shown up, and I always pick the wrong one. If I try to guess, I’ll always guess wrong.”
It’s hard to blame him when the two finish right next to one another and there isn’t a consistent history to tell which Cook twin is faster than the other.
“One doesn’t always beat the other,” Sell said. “It’s gone like this all four years because I kid with them, saying, ‘OK, it’s Parker’s turn to finish first.’ It’s back and forth and might be a split this year.”