Kemmeter: Brooks left lasting mark on Rosholt baseball
By Gene Kemmeter
Jack L. Brooks played only four organized baseball games as a 13-year-old boy in Plover and never played baseball in high school or college. After a stint in Vietnam with the U.S. Air Force, he played in recreational slowpitch softball leagues, often as a pitcher.
But he took the job as the head coach of the Rosholt High School baseball team before the start of the 1987 season because the school couldn’t find anyone to fill the position, and turned the program into a high school baseball power in Wisconsin.
Brooks, 73, died Monday, Aug. 22, at his Rosholt home.A Burial Service with Military Honors will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, at Concordia Lutheran Cemetery in Rosholt. A Celebration of Life will follow at the Rosholt Fairgrounds at 10:30 a.m. atBrooks Field, which was named in honor of Brooks and his wife Cheryl in 2013.
An insurance agent by profession, Brooks had coached his son and only child Brett in Little League, and also spent time practicing with Brett and his son’s friends at the Rosholt ballpark.
After Brett’s freshman season at Rosholt High School, the baseball team was in need of a head coach, and then-Rosholt principal Jim Krems turned to his neighbor, Brooks, when the district had been unable to fill the position.
Krems had noticed the time Brooks spent working with the kids at the ballpark, and convinced him that he could handle the job.
“When I started, I didn’t know what I was doing,” Brooks said after his 500th win as a head coach on April 20, 2017. “I knew a little bit about baseball, but you’ve got to realize, all of the years of doing this, it’s not so much about knowing baseball, it’s knowing kids.
“What you can get them to do, and if you can get them to strive past what they think they can do,” he said. “And if you want a lot of success in this, you take an average player and you make him better.”
Brooks spent 36 seasons as the head coach at Rosholt and finished with 567 wins and 169 losses, as he ranks sixth all-time on the career wins list among spring baseball coaches in Wisconsin history. Rosholt finished as the WIAA Division 4 State Runner-up in 2008 and 2021, and advanced to the Division 4 State Semifinals in 2010 and 2011.
The Hornets won 21 Conference Titles under Brooks, including seven consecutive crowns from 2009 through 2015, when they went 114-3 in conference play and had a 90-game win streak in the Central Wisconsin Conference-10 during that run.
Brooks was inducted into the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2013, and his wife Cheryl received an award the same year for the State Volunteer Woman of the Year.
Rosholt baseball became a family affair. While Jack was the coach, Cheryl ran the concession stand at the ballpark to earn money for the baseball team. “When we first started, there was a little 8-(foot)-by-8-(foot) concession stand here,” Brook stold the Gazette in 2013. “And she’d come down and sell hot dogs and hamburgers and stuff.”
In 2010, the community chipped in to build a larger concession stand and renovate the baseball field. Prior to the 2013 season, the field was renamed Brooks Field in honor of Jack and Cheryl, who were both instrumental in the renovation effort.
At the rededication, Brooks said his wife “was right there with everything. Through all of the sitting in the rain and the mud and everything else, she’s been a big part of it.”
Brooks also frequently praised the assistant coaches he’s had throughout his career, including Corey Opper, Paul Hammerschmidt, Joe Grigas, Caleb Bembenek, Kevin Limberg, Rusty Meyer, Kenny Yenter, Mark Ehr, Alex Bembenek and Kyle McHugh.
“There hasn’t been a large number of coaches, but the guys we’ve had did a good job with it,” said Brooks in 2017. “And alumni will come back in the spring, and throw batting practice, and it’s nice to have the kids come back that played, and they do a good job. But everybody’s a little different and a little unique in what they do, and you go with it,” he said.
Brooks said that Tom and Lori Richter and Pat and Bill Skibba are among the many community members that have helped with the field and the Rosholt baseball program over the years.” Tom Richter put a lot of time and effort down there to give the kids a nice place to play, Brooks said in 2013. “There have been a lot of community members that put time in down at that field and volunteered their time.
“I think just about everybody in town here was involved one way or the other,” said Brooks. “A lot of people came forward with donations and a lot of people came and put their time and effort into it.”
When he discussed his coaching career in 2017, Brooks said that he remembered more about the losses and how they happened, but that when it’s all said and done, there’s worse things in life than losing a baseball game. He also said that he’s never coached a kid that he didn’t like, and that he’s tried to teach his players life lessons along the way.
“The thing we’ve done over the years is try to get the kids focused on going to college and getting good grades,” said Brooks after his 500th win. “You push the grades, it’s not just the baseball, it’s all about character building. You build good character, you build a good program and your kids do well, and that’s what you work for.”
To many of his players and those in the Rosholt community, Brooks was usually referred to by his first name.
“Very few people call me ‘coach Brooks,’ it’s always been ‘Jack,’ even to the kids,” said Brooks in 2017. “It’s a little, tight-knit community, and it’s all like family.
“You enjoy coaching, and there’s some times you get really frustrated with it, but as a whole, you keep coming back,” he said. “You talk to anybody that coached, they don’t do it for the money you make at it, or the bus rides and shoving the mud around. It’s going out and watching the kids play and the smile on their face when they’re done.
“You watch how they mature and what they mature into, and you’re proud of that,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Brooks also made a positive impact on many of his former players, who would return to help celebrate his coaching milestones, and appreciated his contributions to the program.
“The biggest compliment I can give him is that he is Rosholt baseball,” said the late former Rosholt baseball player Andy Hartvig after the 500th victory. “He made it what it is today.
“I remember, before we had the new beautiful field and all of the new bats, he’d always buy bats and everything else, and he spent his own money on it,” he said. “He put in a lot – heart, soul, everything – and that’s what makes it what it is.”
Shawn Cychosz, who played at Rosholt in the 1990s, agreed. After the 500thwin in 2017, he said about Brooks, “Since he’s taken over, he’s always been willing to work with any age group kids, whether it would be the early kids staying out, all the way through the high school.
“He’s always with the kids throughout the summer, and any time that anybody wants to get to the diamond to work on fundamentals and skills, Jack has always been there to gather his coaches up and other players and get kids out there to practice.”
Rosholt athletic director Steve Schoofs said Brooks was “a good, good man,” and his death was too soon. “I was still calling him in July with baseball stuff,” Schoofs said. “He ran a good program. The kids loved him, the parents loved him, the people loved him. He’ll be sorely missed.”
Schoofs said Brooks helped to make the ball diamond a nice place to play for both baseball and softball. “He was very instrumental in the changes. The village ball field has been improved immensely.”
He said the Celebration of Life at the field on Sept. 24 will give area residents the opportunity to express their support for his family and how much they appreciated Brooks.
“He treated kids as they are. Sometimes a coach who has played a lot expects the kids to have the same abilities and knowledge as the coach and struggles to break down the skills for the kids in order to get better,” Schoofs said. “Jack researched and learned about the skills and used common sense to get them across to the kids.”
“He was able to communicate in the kids’ language,” Schoofs said. “He was able to relate to all kids at every level. He had no preconceived ideals. He was caring, he cared for kids, he always worked with kids, no matter their ability. He never talked down to the kids.
“Great coaches build relationships,” he said.