TOM DAVIS: The Keion Brooks Jr. saga is just the latest in a growing line of troubling trends in athletics

North Side junior Keion Brooks Jr. looks to pass during a game this past season at North Side against Homestead. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
Southwood High School coach John Burrus walks off the court with Knight players Carson Blair, left, and Peyton Trexler following their team's loss to Morristown in March in the IHSAA Class A Basketball State Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. (Photo courtesy of Andy McDonnell/WANE-TV)
Southwood High School varsity boy's basketball coach John Burrus hugs Knight senior Peyton trexler following the Knights' win over Blackhawk Christian in the IHSAA Class A Semi-state at Huntington North this past March. (Photo by Dan Vance of News-Sentinel.com)

I was a mere child when I sauntered into the Dairy Queen at the corner of Walnut and Smith Streets in Yorktown and saw Tiger basketball legend (and later Purdue standout) Bruce Parkinson placing his order.

My reaction was as if I had stumbled upon Jesus Christ himself waiting on a banana split.

There was no more iconic individual in the eyes of a kid (or adults, for that matter) in my hometown than Parkinson; that was without question.

What also was not even fathomed was pondering the question: “I wonder where he’ll play next season?”

You see, Parkinson lived just a few blocks from me in the ranch house trimmed in black and a basketball goal in the driveway. Frankie Williams and I would ride our bikes down ‘Rose Hill’ and make the turn onto High Street and always comment ‘That is where Bruce Parkinson lives!’ Why in the world would Parkinson play for any school other than our beloved Yorktown? This was HIS hometown, too.

That world is long gone much to my dismay.

In today’s world of high-level prep basketball, where a talented athlete is playing during the upcoming season is often an annual conundrum and I don’t totally blame the kids, I also place the blame with the (supposed) adults.

Word is circulating throughout Fort Wayne that North Side High School basketball star Keion Brooks Jr. will not complete his career as a legend or a Legend, and will instead play in obscurity while attending La Lumiere School near LaPorte (I’ve attended a game there, it’s obscure, trust me).

There is certainly nothing wrong with a young person attending La Lumiere School. It is one of the most prestigious academic environments that a student can immerse themselves. However, challenging academics play no part in this matter. This is a basketball decision, pure and simple, and anyone that disputes that is being naïve or ignorant or both.

This is simply the latest in an ever-growing and sickening line of parents losing complete perspective for the glorification of their athletically-gifted children.

Welcome to today’s world of high school athletics, which is not limited to, but very prevalent in Fort Wayne.

“It limits (the students’) childhood,” longtime educator and high school coach John Burrus told News-Sentinel.com Sunday. “It sure makes a kid grow up fast, I know that.”

There are an inordinate amount of great student-athletes and coaches throughout Fort Wayne, but in the decade that I have been working at News-Sentinel.com, with growing frequency, there are nauseating situations such as the one involving Brooks Jr.

For the fourth time in recent history, a Fort Wayne athlete (Rapheal Davis, Jaylen Butz, Malik Williams, and now Brooks Jr.) will disregard an opportunity to represent his school and community on the still-prestigious (in my view) Indiana All-Star team next summer.

In the case of Brooks Jr., his possible departure also negates his legitimate opportunity to be Mr. Basketball, as well.

That is sad on the state level, but closer to home, what it also demonstrates is the continued practice that representing yourself is far more important than representing your community, which is exacerbated by self-aggrandizing adults.

Over and over, a lack of loyalty is exhibited by athletes (with their parents’ guidance) toward their school and community.

Last season, North Side’s highly-successful team included Brooks Jr., junior Lucas Kroft, and senior Austin Boucher.

In the case of Kroft, a Ball State basketball commit, he will be suiting up for his third school in as many years this upcoming season.

After playing for Blackhawk Christian for two seasons, he transferred to North Side last year. Legends’ coach Shabaz Khaliq took the same position at Richmond High School earlier this summer, they followed him.

Regardless of the reason for the move, it is certainly their prerogative. However, it is also mine to call moving an entire family for a final season of high school basketball asinine.

As far as Boucher is concerned, he spent time in so many different schools (I believe it was some combination of Norwell, South Side, North Side, and a prep school) through the years that it was hard to keep track of.

“Having kids all the way through school,” Burrus said, “that makes a big difference because it means so much to you, win or lose.”

Burrus has spent nearly three decades coaching high school athletics and a high point was this spring when he led Southwood High School to the IHSAA Class A Basketball championship game.

Following the Knights’ loss to Morristown, Burrus spoke of how special it was to have journeyed with his team since they were in elementary school. On Sunday, he still felt that way.

“At Southwood,” Burrus explained, “what we found were kids that grew up there. They are a bunch of really good kids and we have more good kids like them coming.

“But this group was special and they were a reflection on the community.”

It’s hard to create such a “special” group with transfers and departures occurring each school year, which is why Southwood is a great example of IHSAA athletics in its purest sense.

“We can all point to these kids,” Burrus said of the student-athletes that he has coached, “and say ‘These are our kids and they have represented our program and we have put something special together.’

“It just means so much to you when you can be a part of something like that.”

At the end of the day, whether Brooks Jr. (or Kroft or any other player) attends a specific high school is fairly inconsequential to me. It will have minimal impact on my life, so perhaps I shouldn’t care. However, for the sake of societal and athletic integrity, I do wish that they would.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.

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