Northland News

Remembering Brookhaven

O'Neill leads stars of spring

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Since opening in January 1963, Brookhaven High School has produced one state team champion apiece in football, boys basketball, girls basketball and girls track and field and state-caliber athletes in numerous sports.

For former spring-sport athletes such as Paul O'Neill and Mousha Robinson, though, what they achieved at Brookhaven is more of a footnote to athletic careers that hit their peak years later.

O'Neill went on to play Major League Baseball from 1985-2001 while Robinson earned a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics for the United States women's track and field team.

Although Brookhaven will be closing at the end of the school year because of Columbus City Schools budget cuts, Robinson believes the accomplishments of its most famous alumni will help it to not be forgotten.

"There was such a tradition and legacy (at Brookhaven)," said Robinson, a 1999 Columbus Alternative graduate who competed in sports for the Bearcats. "To have an Olympic gold medalist and to have the Terry Glenns of the world, we really turned out some great athletes. The one thing I do know is that Brookhaven will always exist."

While Glenn was among a group of former Brookhaven athletes to play in the NFL and Helen Darling, Jamelle Cornley and Ron Lewis are among those who have had long pro basketball careers in the U.S. or overseas, O'Neill's major league career began almost 30 years ago and still is going strong.

The youngest of five brothers who competed in sports for the Bearcats during the 1970s, O'Neill led Brookhaven to its only City League title in baseball as a sophomore in 1979.

"We walked to that school," said Robert O'Neill, a 1978 graduate who is Paul's closest brother in age. "It was a big part of our lives. Charles O'Neill, our dad, we lost him in 1999. He lived for baseball."

Art Signore, who was Paul O'Neill's coach during his first two prep seasons, remembers him as someone who "played center field, first base, pitcher. He was a great athlete, period."

The Bearcats produced another baseball player during that time in Steve Whitmyer who would go on to bigger things. He was a key pitcher on the 1979 team and would play four years in the Cleveland Indians organization. He served as Navy's head coach from 2001-05.

O'Neill would go on to hit 281 home runs and bat .288 with 2,105 career hits while splitting his career with the Cincinnati Reds (1985-92) and New York Yankees (1993-2001).

A broadcaster for the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network since retiring as a player, O'Neill earned World Series rings with the Reds in 1990 and with the Yankees in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

Also during the late 1990s, Robinson, whose full first name is Moushaumi, began a memorable track career.

The girls program produced its first state qualifier in 1976 when Betsy Bachtel advanced in two events and had its first state placer in 1983 when Cassandra Eggleston took second in the 100 meters.

Tissy Westbrook was state runner-up in the long jump in 1995.

Robinson then competed in three events at state in 1996 and in one as a sophomore in 1997 before helping the Bearcats share the state team title with Cleveland Collinwood in 1998.

That season, she won the 400, was second in the 100 behind teammate Khalilah Carpenter and ran on the winning 400 relay. Carpenter ran on the champion 800 relay and also won the 200.

In 1999, Robinson defended her title in the 400 and ran on two relays that placed while Carpenter again won the 100 and 200 and ran on the runner-up 800 relay as Brookhaven placed second to Collinwood.

Robinson went on to earn nine Big 12 titles for the University of Texas and made the 2004 U.S. Olympic team as a member of the 1,600 relay. She didn't compete in the final as the U.S. won gold, but did run the second leg of the heat and received a gold medal.

Hali Robinson, who is no relation to Mousha, coached the girls track program from 1979-2006 as well as in 2009 and 2010. He led Brookhaven to a City co-title in 1995 and titles in 1996 and 1998.

"Coach Robinson was an instrumental part of what I became as an athlete," Mousha Robinson said. "When I was a 16-year-old girl, he said, 'You have some talent that will take you to the top, and it's lonely at the top.' ... Brookhaven really set up my track career."

Carpenter, who added state titles in the 100 and 200 as a junior in 2000, went on to compete for the University of South Carolina.

Courtney Johnson would make it to three state meets, including as a junior in 2002 when she won the 100 hurdles.

The last state qualifier in girls track for the Bearcats was Charletta Henley, who took fourth in the long jump in 2012. Her father, 1993 graduate Charles "June" Henley, starred in football and basketball but also competed for Marv Whiting's boys track team, as did numerous other football players.

Whiting, who served as the football team's defensive coordinator from 1985-2008, was boys track coach for 24 of 26 years from 1983-2008 and now is an assistant men's track coach at Ohio Dominican.

He took over the boys track program from Mark Whitaker, who led it from its inception in 1963 until his retirement in 1982.

The Bearcats' first state boys track qualifier was Wayne Van Houten, who advanced in the program's inaugural season in the broad jump. The first state placer was Dave Zeller, who took fourth in the pole vault in 1965.

Brookhaven won its first City title in 1965 as well.

Then in 1966, it captured its only league championship in boys tennis as Jim Forman led the way.

Tracy Broaddus placed in two events in the 1979 state boys track meet and Terry Holt advanced to state the next two years in the long jump, winning the Class AAA title in 1981.

Brookhaven added City titles in 1990, 1992, 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2006 under Whiting and 2010 under Steve Ayers.

Whiting's first great track athlete was Jimmy Greggs, who was fourth at state in the 800 as a junior and second in the same event as a senior in 1993.

Also in his final prep season, Greggs joined current Brookhaven boys track coach Shawn Harris, Brian Parker and Anthony Gwinn on the 1,600 relay that was seventh at state.

Greggs died in a drive-by shooting on Aug. 8, 1993, while in the backseat of a car driven by Gwinn, who was shot in the shoulder.

Gwinn, who was about to begin his freshman season for Ohio State's football team, then lost his older brother, 1992 Brookhaven graduate Jayson Gwinn, to a fatal car accident on Dec. 12, 1993. Jayson Gwinn was a redshirt freshman for the Buckeyes' football team.

On April 26 during an alumni day that included breakfast and basketball games at Brookhaven, Jayson Gwinn and Greggs were among those remembered.

"I went to elementary, middle school and high school with Jimmy, and he blossomed into one of the top track guys," said Anthony Gwinn, who in 2011 founded a youth mentorship program, the Glenn-Gwinn Foundation, with another of his brothers, 1997 Brookhaven graduate Justin Gwinn, and Glenn.

Brookhaven had a state champion in the long jump in 1994 in Hysuan Staples, and the 1,600 relay of Obinna Anyadoh, Brandon Armstrong, Kenny Quinn and Marshall Sanders was first in 1996. Phil Turner won the 400 in 2003.

Nigel Preacher gave the program its last great state performance in 2011 when he took third in the long jump and cleared 7 feet to capture the high jump title.

"It's sad to see they're actually closing the school," said Preacher, who competes for Iowa Central Community College. "When I heard about it, I was pretty upset because (the) first high school (that I attended as a freshman and sophomore) in Pontiac, Mich., closed, too."

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