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Sports >  High school sports

Influencer: Ron Brooks mentored generations of ballplayers and coaches at Shadle Park

Aug. 16, 2021 Updated Wed., Aug. 18, 2021 at 1:42 p.m.

For 37 years, Ron Brooks has been Shadle Park baseball. His influence within the Highlanders program, the Greater Spokane League and across the state is immeasurable.

Brooks, 66, announced his retirement this spring after guiding Shadle Park to yet another winning record – the Highlanders finished 11-3 in the pandemic-shortened GSL season.

“The school, the community, the alumni, the tradition, the kids, parents … I mean it was a very hard decision,” Brooks said. “But it was one that I felt at the time, it was just right. We had a good year and the kids played so well and did so many good things, and I was so very proud of them and it … it just was time.”

Brooks said a lot of factors went into his decision to hang his spikes up. But after the 2020 season was canceled, he knew he had to come back.

“The year of the pandemic and having to tell those kids the season might be done was one of the hardest things anybody would ever have to do,” Brooks said. “And then, with Shadle Park going 2A (this season) and a different schedule and a different transition, I couldn’t bail on them.”

At the end of this season, he knew it was time.

“I would call it a nine-month rain delay,” Brooks said. “I’ve used my share of diamond dry, and I’ve raked my puddles, but this was a yo-yo that went on-off, on-off because it mentally was really an emotional roller coaster.

“The kids were great, the parents, the school – everything was fantastic. It’s just my timing and my age and I … I just couldn’t run the program the way I normally had for 37 years.”

Brooks is looking forward to what’s next.

“My wife is retired for a couple years,” he said. “It was that next chapter in life to move on. I think it’s a chance to do other things. I had a great time, a great run and I’m not mad, bitter, nothing. I am leaving on a happy note.”

Brooks noted that of his fondest memories of coaching, the support of his family meant as much as anything else. Brooks said he interviewed for the head coaching job at Shadle Park while he and his wife, Nancy, were on their honeymoon.

“It’s not easy to be a coach’s wife,” he said. “Nancy has been with me and supported me and we’ve done fundraisers and a lot of things in my 37 years. Our daughter Beth and our son Richard, they never have a spring vacation because back when I started coaching we played over spring break.

“I was very, very fortunate and blessed to have a very supportive family.”

Much like high-profile NFL or college football coaches, Brooks’ “coaching tree” has produced dozens of head, assistant and JV coaches throughout Spokane.

“I was very, very fortunate to have assistant coaches who worked well with kids, cared about kids, knew the game, were energetic, and were positive role models for them,” Brooks said.

One of those coaches is Scott Harmon, who takes over as head coach at Shadle Park upon Brooks’ retirement. Harmon played on Brooks’ 1990 team that finished third at state.

Harmon coached at North Central for 17 years before coming back to the Highlanders.

“(Brooks) was a tremendous mentor,” Harmon said. “But he was such a mentor to so many people that the positive influence just goes on and on and on. I just think that’s the best tribute is the positive influence that Coach has had. He was an influencer far before the term influencer ever came along.”

Harmon is happy Brooks will still be active within the community after his retirement.

“I’ve told people I’m not changing colors, I’m not going anywhere,” Brooks said. “I will be around. I’ll be very supportive of Coach Harmon, he’ll do a great job.”

On Friday, more than 250 people attended a celebration of Brooks’ career, the “Last Inning with Coach Brooks” at Al Jackson Field at Shadle Park.

“I think there’s no doubt that Coach Brooks has deserved this kind of honor for a long time,” Harmon said.

“His career obviously spans decades,” Harmon added. “And there are several players right now who had dads or uncles or cousins or whoever play in the program and so it is nice to see that generational effect.”

Two of those in attendance were Dana and Drew Richardson, a father and son who both played for Brooks.

Dana Richardson is president of Spokane Indians Youth Baseball and recent past president of Spokane American Legion Baseball and the Shadle Park Booster Club.

“The man cares more about students and players than any person I’ve ever met in my life,” Dana Richardson said.

Richardson values the fact that he and his son shared the same high school baseball coach.

“Having the same coach and understanding the character that Ron instills in his players is irreplaceable,” he said. “I mean, he’s like a dad to so many players, it’s unbelievable.”

Drew, a 2019 grad, just completed his second season at Wenatchee Valley and recently signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Central Washington next year.

“(Brooks) definitely deserves all of this,” Drew Richardson said, “He instilled so many different things in each and every one of us that’s obviously stuck with us, and that shows today.”

Brooks lettered in baseball for three years at Shadle Park. As a senior in 1973 he played in Washington’s first baseball state tournament.

He went to Wenatchee Valley for two years and finished his degree at Whitworth.

Brooks coached JV baseball at Rogers, then student-taught at Lewis and Clark before coaching at North Central for a couple of years. He was hired as an assistant coach at Shadle Park for three years before becoming the third head coach since the school opened in 1957, following Joe Heslin and Jim Brown.

“I never left the north side of Spokane,” Brooks said. “I don’t even have a passport.

“Coach Brown, he just taught us how to play,” he said. “Fundamentals and leadership and work ethic and knowledge of the game. I think it speaks a lot for the baseball community and this part of the area, I mean we only have three (coaches). We stuck through it.”

Brooks won three GSL championships and was voted coach of the year three times. His teams made six regional appearances and two final fours, though the state title remained elusive.

Brooks went 426-348 in his career. Six of his players were selected in the MLB draft, more than 60 played college baseball and he twice coached in the all-state baseball game.

He was inducted into the Washington State Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2008.

Brooks said of all the baseball games he’s coached, one that stands out was the most recent, a 4-0 win over East Valley on May 15.

“It was hard because my wife and the kids were there, and they knew, and no one else really knew,” he said. “That would be a day that will probably stick with me, knowing it was the last time it would happen.”

Brooks paused for a moment to think about what he would miss most.

“I’m going to miss teaching the game,” he said. “I’ll miss practice. I’ll miss teaching. The kids. I’ll miss competition. I mean, I’ll miss that, but if a guy wants to do this for wins and losses, you’re not going to do it long.”

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