Pointing the way

It's late Wednesday afternoon and the Ashland High gymnasium is alive with the sound of basketball.

Sneakers chirp while girls run a full-court five-man weave. A layup at the far end signals a fastbreak, three-on-two race up the court. "Here, here," and echoing dribbles fill the cavernous space. Another shot, and off go five more girls.

Halfway down the court, off to the side by the stacked in bleachers two younger ladies talk. A redhead sits in her practice uniform chatting to a blonde in grey track pants with a neon pink shirt peeking from beneath a grey hoody.

"So a friend texted me and was like, 'your picture's in the Tidings.'"


"And I was like, 'ugh'"

The blonde puts up a finger to her counterpart and spins on her heel to face the court. She walks up to the group finishing their three-on-two.

"Talk it up on defense. Talk it up. This is what I mean when I say communicate."

Overseeing opposite ends of the courts are two coaches. Like a sentinel, Tony Akpan stands and watches at the far end of the court. Paul Kitzman stalks the near baseline, challenging players and clapping his hands. They keep the drill running.

The blonde walks back to the sideline, snapping her gum and resuming the conversation.

The two coaches at opposite ends signal the end of the drill and everyone circles around center court. The ones in practice uniforms quiet down and the two coaches stand in front of them. The girl in track pants stands between them, tiny but not overshadowed.

"Good effort so far ladies. Let's grab a break and drink then free throws. Hustle!"

The gymnasium fills with the sound of her voice, but isn't strained by the sound of yelling. Head coach Emily Brookins doesn't yell to make an impression.

"Quickly now," she tells her players. Some jog to the water fountain, two walk towards the baseline.

"If we don't want to hurry we can just run," Brookins offers them. The players start to run.

Brookins desire to coach bloomed under head coach Lynn Kennedy at Southern Oregon University.

"(Brookins and I) talked about coaching a lot in her four years," said Kennedy. "She felt like the high school level was where she belonged as a coach; helping girls come up and their game and developing them into role models."

In high school, Crater head coach David Heard impacted Brookins in a profound way.

Her senior year, before practice one day, the Comets scrimmaged at full speed. The score was deadlocked. Coach Heard slipped into the gymnasium and watched.

Both teams clamped on defense. No one scored a basket. Players started gassing and it was time for practice. Coach Heard spoke up. He told his players to keep going.

This isn't the time to quit. Dig deeper, push harder and hustle, he commanded.

Neither team could score and the mood turned sluggish.

"C'mon now, keep at it," they are reminded. "You can do it. Keep digging, keep fighting."

A basket is scored and the players collapse.

"The goal wasn't winning," recalls Brookins. "Well, we all wanted that, but it's not all consuming "… I wanted to push harder. I wanted to do those things for him, because he cared about me."

Brookins knew she wanted to coach.

After she got the call confirming her new job as head coach at Ashland High, Brookins had the formidable task of meeting her new team.

Ashland athletic director Karl Kemper announced a basketball meeting, and as girls filed into his office they wondered if the young woman waiting with him was going to be their new teammate. To avoid confusion Kemper announced Brookins as the new coach, admitting, "Yes she played her basketball at Crater. But we will forgive her"…"

Her players were thankful for a fresh start.

"I was interested and excited," said senior Willie Michiels. "Getting a new coach finally felt right. We felt separate."

The fit worked immediately for Brookins as well.

"I felt like I was in a position to relate to these girls," she said. "If I had the right resources I would be successful. I wanted to teach them life lessons. That was more iffy, but I was seeing if I could."

As practice winds down the mood loosens. Brookins gathers the girls and commends them on their improving effort.

A senior with long brown hair pulled back into a ponytail runs down Brookins after they break.


"What's up?"

"Can I grab a ride?"

"Sure, talk to this nice reporter first."

She points Rose Marston towards the nice reporter and she answers questions for a few minutes about her new coach.

"She is great because we relate more with her because she relates to us," Marston said. "There has never been a lack of respect for her from any of us."

Marston walks off to the locker rooms and practice winds down. Another girl begins to jog towards her bag on the bleachers before Brookins stops her with a gruff, "Hey!"

The girl turns around to see what she possibly did wrong.

Brookins yells, "Think fast!" and pretends to throw a Sobe bottle to her player's full hands. The girl flinches and Brookins laughs and says with a smile, "Got ya."

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