I have always had a soft spot in my heart for boys and people who see potential in them and try to guide them through the tender days of childhood and youth. My Dad, my hero, had a favorite charity. It was Boys Town, a home for disadvantaged boys, with a slogan, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” Losing his dad to death as a very young child, Dad seemed to identify with the struggles of the boys that this organization helped. You see, one boy is important and could be the boy with the potential to change the world.
The Boys Club of Sylacauga is a place where such miracles occur. It is an important part of this city although it is sitting on five acres of land over on Pine Street hidden from the traffic on Highways 280 and 21. Boys need room to run and play football, baseball, soccer, and as my friend Faye Simpkins used to say, “unstructured time to just kick a rock.”
The city is no longer giving the Boys Club any money to operate, but we are still finding money for trees, animals, parks, and other good things, but not our greatest asset, young people. I am appealing to our City Council that this policy be changed, for what could be more important to Sylacauga than its people? Now deceased Congressman Kenneth Roberts said, “There is no doubt that the boy of today can handle the job of being the man of tomorrow.” Today we look at what is happening to boys in our own town and all over our state, we are not so sure; but we cannot afford to fail in our efforts to help them.
According to the Daily home, March 11, 1956, the Boys Club was established in Sylacauga on March 1, 1950, and Jack Brooks was what was then called the President of the local club. In a later Sylacauga Advance article April 20, 1961, Bill Irby was introduced by Lawrence Wheeler, local banker, as the “Father of the Boys Club in Sylacauga.” It was a small building, and boxing was an activity in the forefront. A man I remember standing on the sidewalk on North Broadway as students walked by from Sylacauga High was Director James Walker. In a February 23, 1961, issue of the Sylacauga Advance there is a story of boys from Sylacauga participating in an Alabama Sectional basketball tournament, and the boys from Sylacauga were awarded the Sportsmanship Trophy. The businessmen of Sylacauga have always stood behind the Club that helps boys. Some of these names that come to mind from then and now include John Gann, Taft Rudd, Fred Hagan, J. Craig Smith, Donald Comer, Jay Thomas, Ed Dark, Wesley Bowden, Bruce Brooks, Bill Campbell, Brian Owens, Harold Dickson, Henry Nunnelly, Keith Welden, Tom Bivin, Keith Owens, Steve Sprayberry, Barry Vaughn, Bruce Carr, Mike Gorman, and on and on I could go. Father Abraham, beloved Sylacauga Priest at St. Jude’s Catholic Church should be added to this list.
The name on the building today is Coach Harold Brooks Boys Club, and it was with his son Jody Brooks that I sat down and talked recently. Harold Brooks was Director for 38 years, and Jody became director in July 2007. Anyone who knows Harold Brooks and his wife Becky knows what they have contributed to Sylacauga, another Dynamic Duo.
The Boys Club continues with Coach Harold’s shadow over it, and with Jody casting his own shadow, strongly influenced by his raising. Each of the other names I have listed and many I do not know about have had a part in the success of this Club, and God keeps perfect records.
The rules, the activity-based club, the discipline, and the love have not changed. Jody Brooks is a one-man operation in the daily operations at the Club. He cuts all of that grass, keeps the building spotless, and still has time to mentor the boys and plan activities for boys who come from first grade to high school. Keith Welden in a February 3, 2007, Daily Home alluded to the Club policy started when Jody was just a boy, “If you mess up, you clean up.” He went on to say, “The Boys Club has the cleanest bathrooms in town.” The club has a game room with ping pong and other games for inside activity, weights, etc.; but flag football, softball, basketball, and other outside activities seem to still be favorites. There is no internet access and phones must be kept in book bags or in Coach’s desk. Jody’s discipline problems are minimal, sometimes just “boy stuff” that has to be talked out.
Some boys come back to visit when they are in town from college/work, just to say hello or shoot baskets in that gym where they learned how to be the men they became. (One drifted in and grabbed a basketball while I was there.) Jody keeps the building open from 1:30-5:00 summers, opening at 2:00 after school starts. Of course the crowd is bigger in the summer or during school intermissions.
The Boys Club Board of Directors, headed by Steve Persons, handles financial operations and makes decisions concerning building, operations, and expenditures. The Board has operated primarily through e-mails for the past few unusual years. United Way of Sylacauga contributes faithfully to the Club, but their donations are way down, so the portion it can donate is proportionate. It is a shaky ground on which the present Boys Club stands. They need us, the people of Sylacauga, to stand up and support this place and the boys it helps. Jody Brooks grew up there, and he knows the neighborhood. They look out for each other, and the Boys Club extends a Christian ministry beyond its doors. It is an organization that honors Christ through its character-building tenets. In a society when that privilege is fast disappearing, it is a unique place.
Bob Clifton and I made it a priority for our boys to attend the Boys Club where both played Boys Club basketball. Robert did his Eagle Scout project there, organizing activities, cleaning the grounds, and it made him a better man. I was super proud when he was chosen Boy of the Year in 1987.
Sylacauga City Council once supported the Boys Club, and it was not so long ago at that. Perhaps we could step up and do that again! Do you want to be a part of something greater than yourself, helping boys become better men? City Council, what about it?
Special thanks to Samantha Machen, B.B. Comer Library, Jody Brooks, and Amy Peoples.