Commentary

School closings can pack lifelong emotional punch

Kris Kern never will forget how he felt the last time a central Ohio high school closed its doors, as Brookhaven will at the end of this month.

After having led the Wehrle girls volleyball team to a Division IV state runner-up finish the previous fall in his 11th season as coach, it was announced Feb. 4, 1991 -- Kern's birthday -- that the Catholic school on Columbus' south side would be closing after 26 years.

"It feels to me like it happened yesterday," said Kern, who now coaches at Canal Winchester. "I feel for Brookhaven."

Brookhaven became Columbus City Schools' third new high school to open over a three-year period in 1963 because of growth throughout the district, but many of its greatest moments didn't come until more than two decades had passed.

With future NFL players like Terry Glenn and June Henley, the Bearcats became a City League football powerhouse during the early 1990s.

In 1992, a youth and AAU basketball coach named Bruce Howard took over Brookhaven's boys program and lifted it to new heights.

The Bearcats won 10 City League-North Division titles, three regional championships and one state title during Howard's 11 seasons as coach before he died in April 2003.

Many who played for Howard still consider him a surrogate father.

From a girls athletic standpoint, few schools have duplicated the success Brookhaven had in basketball from 1981-2011 under Reggie Lee, or in track from 1980-2003 under Hali Robinson.

Despite that history, dropping enrollment and the district's desire to slash its budget resulted in Brookhaven becoming one of five Columbus City Schools that will be closed at the end of the school year.

In similar fashion, Wehrle gained fame throughout the state because of its athletic success.

During its final eight seasons, the boys basketball team went 193-24, winning the Class A state championship in 1986 and Division IV state titles in 1988, 1989 and 1990.

Despite the announcement of Wehrle's closing just before the 1991 postseason, the Wolverines made it to a Division IV state semifinal.

This year's Brookhaven boys team created a lasting memory as well, snapping Northland's 118-game City winning streak three days after the Feb. 7 announcement that the school might be closed. Then on Feb. 15, the Bearcats won their first league championship since 2006.

Not much could top that in terms of a way to go out -- the official decision of Brookhaven's closure came March 4 -- but it won't erase the sadness people who have been a part of the school are feeling.

Alumni no longer will be able to cheer for their alma mater.

A few weeks from now, anyone wanting to see the school's 2004 state championship football trophy won't be able to do so at the school.

Teachers and coaches who have stayed at Brookhaven until the end will be placed in new positions throughout the school district or could be without a job as budget cuts continue.

Underclassmen who have dreamed of adding to Brookhaven's tradition instead will be forced to wear the cap and gown of another school at future graduations.

Those who are losing their school should hang on to the bonds that connected them in the first place, according to Kern.

The one thing they'll share is that they'll always be Bearcats.

"It certainly robs people of the ability to reminisce like normal," Kern said. "It was a horrible thing (when Wehrle closed), but the relationships are what can't be taken away when they lock the doors. Hold on to your friendships."

Jarrod Ulrey is a ThisWeek sportswriter. Follow his blog, "On the Recruiting Trail," for the latest in central Ohio high school recruiting news.

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