Brooks Believes Church Plays a Role
Alton F. Brooks is adamant about the role of the church in local basketball and in American culture.
“I’m totally convinced that a lot of the problems in our society are because we’ve taken God out of the schools,” he said.
The youth league’s roots are intertwined with churchgoers’ concerns about the kids’ well-being, which fomented the birth of the YMCA/NEWBRACC League, founded through the New Britain Area Council of Churches. Churches throughout the region fielded teams, but if you were African-American and lived in New Britain, you played for Spottswood.
“The church was automatically a part of your coaching and teaching, and the kids then had to come to church if they were going to play on the team,” Brooks said. “For me, that was a key. That’s where I came from.”
The staunchest of Brooks’ protégés have carried on his work. Among them are Darwin “Bubby” Shaw, assistant boys basketball coach and girls head track coach at NBHS, and Mike Jones, NBHS assistant girls basketball coach and an administrator in the Alton F. Brooks League and the Connecticut Heat AAU team.
“I am fortunate enough to have lived long enough to see the fruit of some of my labor and the system,” he said, doing his best to quell the emotion that bubbled to the surface. “As I go around town, a lot of the young adults and how they treat me and talk about me. They always mention those days. I enjoyed those days. You don’t know what it did for my life. I hear it over and over. It’s a gratification.”
“I was a part of their life and that had a lot to do with how they came out.”
He spoke of the late Lincoln “Poochie” Rice.
“He was a wild kind of kid but I got a hold of him and he put his energy into basketball,” Brooks said. “He became one of the best all-around players I had coached.”
He told a story about overhearing kids about to engage in negative behavior.
“I heard a kid say, ‘No, we’re a part of the AME Zion team and we don’t do those kinds of things. If you do that, I’ll tell Mr. Brooks.’ That told me something. They think before they go and do some things because of church.”
He has personally felt the pain associated with the growing prevalence of drug abuse on city streets.
“Kids have nowhere else to go and that’s where they end up,” he said. “I’ll bet 90 percent of them would not go to drugs if churches [played a bigger part in their lives]. I know because its been in my family and the community. The church, to me, is a key to all of our ills.”