Northland News

Remembering Brookhaven

Football provided more than state title

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NEAL C. LAURON/THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Brookhaven coach Tom Blake hugs Alex Daniels after the Bearcats won their only state football championship with a 42-21 victory over Avon Lake at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon on Dec. 3, 2004.
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Whether it was the greatest triumph in the history of City League athletics can remain up for debate, but the Brookhaven football team's 2004 Division II state championship might be the best example of what the high school has symbolized.

Being a Bearcat often was about becoming something special.

"Education is No. 1 when it comes to schools, but when it comes to athletics and certain people thriving and graduating, Brookhaven was a place in the city where you'd go and you could be something in life," said Mike McGee, who started at quarterback from 2003-05 and now is an assistant football coach at Siena Heights University in Adrian, Mich.

Brookhaven opened in 1963, but because of dropping enrollment and the school district's goal of slashing the budget, it will close at the end of the school year.

Although the school first was rumored to be on the verge of closing in 2011, it was given a reprieve until March 4 when the school board deemed its closure a necessity.

It will become the first high school in the district to close since North shut its doors in 1979 and Central followed in 1982.

Tom Blake, who was an assistant football coach at Brookhaven from 1983-89 and led the program during one of its greatest eras, from 2003-07, hopes the school's accomplishments in athletics won't be forgotten.

"I remember years ago when I started into coaching, Brookhaven was the country club of city schools," Blake said. "There was a strong community and the kids walked to school. People now kind of forget that Central even existed. I think (the trophies the school has won) will end up in some back room somewhere."

With key players such as McGee, Dominic Jones (WR/DB), Alex Daniels (RB/LB), Melvin Jackson (RB/LB), Mark Jackson (OL) and Jeff Cumberland (TE/DL), who now plays tight end for the New York Jets, the Bearcats beat Avon Lake 42-21 for the 2004 state title.

During Blake's head-coaching tenure, Brookhaven made the playoffs and won City League-North Division titles in four of five seasons.

The Bearcats went on to make playoff appearances in 2008 and 2009 under coach Anthony Thornton and in 2011 and last season under coach Trevor White.

Brookhaven earned its 300th victory last fall, including a 29-27 win over Chillicothe in the first round of the Division III, Region 9 playoffs. The Bearcats' final game -- although that wasn't known at the time -- was a 20-19 loss to Marion-Franklin the next week.

While the first City League championship Brookhaven won was in 1965, Thornton was among the players who helped usher in nearly three decades of consistent success for the football program.

Thornton led the Bearcats to the 1986 City title as a senior quarterback before playing four years for Ohio University.

"I guess (finding out about Brookhaven's closure) was a little different for me," Thornton said. "It wasn't the same Brookhaven I grew up to know and love. So much has changed moving into the open-enrollment era. We had great camaraderie and a great sense of community when I played."

Gregg Miller took over as Bearcats coach in 1986 and got the program to the playoffs for the first time in 1990. Brookhaven made it to Division I state semifinals in 1991 and 1992.

During the early 1990s, the Bearcats produced players like Terry Glenn (WR/DB), Marlon Kerner (QB/DB), Jayson Gwinn (LB) and Anthony Gwinn (DB), who all played for Ohio State, as well as June Henley (RB/DB), who later played for Kansas.

Glenn made the NFL Pro Bowl in 1999 and Henley and Kerner also had stints in the NFL.

"The '90 team got us to the state playoffs for the first time," said Kerner, who played for the Buffalo Bills and is a broadcaster for high school football games in the Buffalo area. "We were definitely loaded."

Chuck Andrick, who is the only person affiliated with every Brookhaven playoff team in some capacity, believes the teams from his playing days had a special "camaraderie." He played for the Bearcats from 1990-92 and was an assistant coach during their other 12 playoff appearances.

"We knew coming up that we were going to be something special," Andrick said. "We worked hard and we liked each other. With those early '90s teams, those were probably the most talented teams in Brookhaven history."

Followers of Brookhaven football also were treated to memorable teams later in the decade.

After losing playoff openers in 1997 and 1999, the Bearcats made it to a regional semifinal in 2000 but lost to DeSales 28-25 as senior Maurice Hall was intercepted on a halfback pass during the final two minutes.

Hall, who rushed for 3,057 yards and 51 touchdowns in 2000 and went on to play for Ohio State's 2002 national championship team, was among a group of key players that included Danny Upchurch (QB), Donald Germany (DL) and Rodney Carter (WR).

"(Brookhaven's) definitely a special place for me," said Hall, who now lives in Los Angeles and has had acting roles on shows such as Fox's "The Mindy Project" and VH1's "Hit the Floor."

"I was the senior class president and in my senior year we played DeSales in the playoffs. We ended up losing that game, but we had a really good year."

In addition to the four City championship games and 12 division titles Brookhaven won in football, it also had moments of success in other fall sports.

The Bearcats won their only City golf championship in 1989 when John Gerber and Mike McCoy led the way.

They won City girls volleyball titles in 1987, 1996 and 2000 and were league runners-up in 1995.

In girls tennis, the Bearcats shared the City League title with Eastmoor and Whetstone in 1974.

The school broke through in boys soccer with its first league championship in 2005 under coach Jim Himes and also won titles in 2008, 2009 and 2011 under Paul Hackworth.

Led by Rex Mensah, Osman Kamara and Jibril Jama, who holds the program record for career goals with 52, Brookhaven reached a Division I district semifinal for the first time in 2007.

That same group helped the Bearcats duplicate the feat in 2008.

"We were lucky in that we had some outstanding players," Hackworth said. "We got kids with lots of individual talent to play team ball."

In a sense, at least the success the football program has enjoyed since the mid-1980s will continue next fall.

White, who led the Bearcats to a 23-10 mark the last three seasons, accepted the coaching position at Beechcroft on March 6.

His entire coaching staff and several key players, including sophomore quarterback Macyah Fleming, are expected to join him at the nearby City-North school.

"Even though you knew it could happen, there's still a little bit of disbelief," said White, who was an assistant at Brookhaven from 2000-06. "At least we won the (City-North) championship (last fall) and got to hang one last banner on the wall."

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