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When will Lathrop honor native son Scott Brooks?
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I was smiling when Arnita Montiel spoke before the Lathrop City Council last week urging them to honor the accomplishments of Lathrop’s very own, Scott Brooks, the former pro basketball player whose latest accolade is being named 2010 NBA Coach of the Year.

I was amused because I could not help thinking that it took nearly four years before someone finally acted on a suggestion I made in a column that I wrote on Feb. 10, 2007 (read below).

A few days later, I was actually laughing when I heard another story related to Montiel’s Scott Brooks proposal.

While interviewing former mayor Gloryanna Rhodes for a story I was working on about the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District of which she is a board member, she commented in passing on the Scott Brooks issue. She said she laughed when she read my story in the paper about Montiel going before the council because she remembered that this has already been voted on and approved several years ago when she was still on the council. She remembered it well, Rhodes said, because at that time the council wanted to get three things done right away that would foster community pride and, at the same time, recognize the contributions and accomplishments of its outstanding citizens:

1) naming one of the baseball fields at Valverde Park after Ernie Tafoya, the first soldier from Lathrop who was killed in action in the Vietnam War;

2) renaming Stonebridge Park behind the Joseph Widmer, Jr. Elementary School to Apolinar Sangalang Park in honor of the World War II hero and survivor of the Bataan Death March in the Philippines who later became the first politician of Filipino descent in California – perhaps, even in the United States – to be elected mayor of a city; and,

3) christening the spacious gym inside the Lathrop Community Center as the Scott Brooks Gym in honor of the man who was one of the original gym rats at Valverde Park.

Signs were installed accordingly at the Tafoya Baseball Field and at Stonebridge Park, but somehow the placement of a Scott Brooks Gym plaque at the Lathrop Community Center gym was apparently overlooked inadvertently. During her speech before the council, Montiel went on the record saying her service club will volunteer to foot the bill for the Scott Brooks Gym plaque.

Here, with a little divergence and twist, was the column I wrote about the very same topic nearly four years ago. Much had happened since then, of course  – Lathrop High is now a reality, and the city’s most successful athlete to date went on to earn more national accolades.

“Scott Brooks is a native son of Lathrop.

“But you wouldn’t know that when you read the stories about this basketball giant today. The stories always say he graduated from high school in Manteca.

“Those stories would read differently if Lathrop had a high school campus when Brooks graduated from Lathrop Elementary School.

“Which is why every time I come across a story about the pro-basketball player-turned Sacramento Kings assistant coach, and most recently interim coach, I’m reminded of former Lathrop Councilmember Bob Gleason. There are other former and incumbent council members whose names I could also mention. But it was Gleason who spoke most often and passionately about how important a Lathrop High School was for the city, not just for the residents’ convenience but more importantly, as far as the former council member was concerned, for the collective psyche, identity and self-esteem of the community.

“Last week came the perfect illustration of what Gleason was talking about. In the Saturday, Feb. 3, sports section of The Sacramento Bee, the lead cover story accompanied by a prominent five-column photograph was devoted to Scott Brooks. The story was about the Sacramento Kings’ assistant coach moving up to the helm, albeit temporarily for a couple of games, while Coach Eric Musselman was under suspension.

‘“He’s ‘Scotty’ to most, especially those hometown folks in Manteca...,” ‘ read part of the Bee story.

“The story then went on to elaborate that before he achieved fame and the national spotlight, Brooks “was the gym rat who turned his own local legend into a long-term living. Nearly 30 years ago, Bill Stricker was in his first year as head coach at East Union High School in Manteca. He still was two years away from giving Brooks a Lancers uniform and further (sic) still from becoming a father figure to the little guy....”

“I could just hear former Councilman Gleason saying it would have been Lathrop instead of Manteca being mentioned in these high-visibility stories if the city had its own high school back then. Growing up in Lathrop where he attended Lathrop High School, Brooks would have attended Lathrop High School.

“But the town didn’t have the population base to justify the construction of a high school campus then. (They do now. Construction of the town’s first high school is currently under way on Dos Reis Road and is projected to open in the fall of 2008.) So Brooks and his contemporaries either took the bus or were driven by their parents to East Union in Manteca where, for many years, everybody who graduated from Lathrop School was ordered to go. Now, Lathrop eighth-grade graduates are either sent to Sierra High School, which is also in Manteca, or to the Weston Ranch High School in French Camp.

“Talk about broken families. And that’s a phrase that Gleason often used to describe families whose children were scattered in different high schools in the area. Which also meant a house divided when it came to alma mater loyalties, I remember him pointing out not just once but several times during council meetings in the old City Hall at J.R. Simplot on Howland Road.

“.  . . . And then again, knowing the impact that Brooks has had on his old high school alma mater, and knowing how proud his old coaches and teachers are of his inspiring story and how the diminutive five-foot-eleven athlete (considered short in the world of towering seven-foot-five players) beat the odds, Gleason and the rest of Lathrop may wake up one day to the news that Manteca was naming one of their sports facilities after Lathrop’s very own native son.

“So the question now is: will Lathrop let that happen?”