Brooks benefit joins Loyola friends, foes

Sports community unites behind paralyzed teen

December 03, 2004|By Laura Vecsey | Laura Vecsey,SUN STAFF

If people in this city had an inkling before Van Brooks got so terribly hurt playing football about what's so special about Baltimore and the sports played and beloved here, the truth has been clearly revealed by now.

Brooks, 16, a Loyola Blakefield junior, is everybody's child. He is everybody's son. He's everybody's brother.

That's the way everyone is fighting with him to recover, fighting for him.

Tomorrow, the gym at Loyola will be packed by 6:30 p.m. Twelve hundred people, at least. That's how many tickets have been sold so far. And at $50, it's a downright bargain price to pay, in order to be part of this.

What is "this"?

It's an auction, yes: a holiday-season fund-raiser to benefit Brooks. All the particulars are contained on the inspirational Web site: www.vanbrooks.com.

Brooks is the friend and son and athlete and student with the electric personality. He was the three-sport star with the academic record of an achiever. He's a leader. He's from West Baltimore, where his parents, Sherry and Van Sr., live, but he has collected friends and admirers through Towson, Roland Park, Ruxton, Owings Mills - all over the area.

All this has been reduced to background information ever since Brooks suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury. He became the reality of a parent's worst nightmare: the strong young adult whose life gets terribly altered in a game that is supposed to bring so much pleasure.

People at the Georgetown Prep field that Sept. 25 day, when Brooks' vertebrae were so dangerously compressed that he had to be flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center and rushed into surgery, say it's an event that changed them.

That feeling now extends far beyond the eyewitnesses, which is why so many have answered the call.

"This started seven weeks ago, when [Loyola alumnus] Tim Thompson said we have to do something. Our goal at the time was to get 15 items up for auction. We have now well over 400," said Boh Hatter, another Loyola alum who has coached Brooks in basketball and football.

"We have 75 corporate sponsors who have donated at least $1,000, many of them a great deal more. No one we've called has said no. The owners of the Ravens and the Orioles have been remarkably good to us. Our goal was to raise $250,000. I'm pretty sure we're beyond that already, before we've auctioned off one item," he said.

Sure, the celebrity factor for this weekend's auction is enough to cause a stir. But don't be overwhelmed by the presence of men like Brian Billick and Gary Williams. They'd probably be the first to tell you this is not about them.

Same goes for the sometimes-rare items offered for auction by Ray Lewis, Miguel Tejada, Jonathan Ogden, Javy Lopez, Ralph Friedgen, Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray - they are just the vehicle for doing something good.

Why else would someone donate a baseball signed by the 1955 Orioles or one that bears the autographs of the only three men to collect 500 homers and 3,000 hits?

For Van Brooks, that's why.

This auction is the confluence of things Baltimoreans believe to be their absolutely best traits.

"There's a unique culture here, especially with the whole private school thing and the rivalries," said John Kelly, a 1975 graduate of Loyola whose son is a teammate of Brooks. "But this is one of those instances where you truly find the goodness in humanity, where people want to rise above."

Kelly calls it "stunning" the way people have responded to the needs of this Loyola student and the needs of the Loyola community.

"We're all doing the same thing. We're trying to better our children, provide an education for them," Kelly said.

Calvert Hall and its alumni are in step with Loyola. Recently, a letter arrived from a group of Calvert Hall football players who played in the 1940s. The men sent their prayers to Brooks and his family, along with six checks totaling about $800.

This week, a fourth-grader from Sacred Heart in Glyndon, Jack D'Angelo, issued a mass e-mail, calling everyone to meet him at Fuddruckers in Reisterstown on Dec. 7, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The restaurant will donate 15 percent of its revenues that night to the Van Brooks Benefit Fund.

One of the most persistent of Brooks' supporters has been Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. He has visited Brooks' hospital room several times, showing the same motivational intensity as he does on the football field.

If Brooks' spirit had been weak or wavering in the difficult post-operative period when he suffered fevers and infection from feeding tubes and a respirator, Lewis wanted to show the teen he was not alone.

Lewis wears a T-shirt under his game-day jersey to honor Brooks.

"What Ray means to Van is between them, but what Ray has done is unbelievable. Ray's got Van fired up and ready to go," said Thompson, who spearheaded this auction effort.

Like many people associated with this effort, Thompson all but begged not to have his name published in this article. It's not about us, they say like a mantra.

The focus is on making sure the Brooks family has the financial resources to begin tackling monstrous expenses.

And tomorrow night outside Loyola, more than 200 football student-athletes from schools such as Gilman, McDonogh, Calvert Hall, Loyola, Georgetown Prep and Boys' Latin and others from girls high schools will form a receiving line.

"They wanted to say we're all one family," Thompson said.

They're also telling a 16-year-old young man whose life is forever changed that, while he and his family bear the most terrible part of this burden, so many others are ready to go down the hard road with him.

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