EDENTON — Alton G. “Tunney” Brooks, a man whose name was synonymous with Lumberton High School for almost 40 years, died Friday morning at Vidant Chowan Hospital in Edenton after a three-year battle with cancer. He was 84.
In addition to serving as the Lumberton High School athletic director, Brooks coached the basketball and football teams. From 1953 until 1980, his basketball teams won more than 300 games while he was coach. In 1993, the football stadium at the school was named Alton G. Brooks Stadium.
There will be a visitation at the high school on Thursday at 4 p.m. at the Lumberton High School gymnasium.
Brooks’ death brought forth memories of those who were close to their former coach and friend. Over everything else, Brooks was lauded as being a disciplinarian who instilled a team-first philosophy, and a man who was consistently there for others, whether it was to be as a mentor, coach or buddy.
Alongside Brooks for a majority of his tenure with the Pirates was long-time friend and fellow coach Finley Read, who joined Brooks’ football staff at Lumberton High in 1960.
“We worked together … but we were more like brothers,” Read said. “We were together a long time. We just got along so good together.”
Read shared 16 years on the sidelines and a total of 28 years inside the Lumberton High hallways with Brooks.
Where there was Brooks, Read was likely to follow.
“I remember one time,” Read said, “he was supposed to speak at the civic club — and he was a good speaker — but he really didn’t like to do it. So he said, ‘Coach, how about you do this one?’ … I was introduced as ‘Finley Brooks’. When you saw one (of us), you saw two.”
Dave Bullock, who built a model pirate ship that was donated to the Lumberton High School in Brooks’ honor, recalled learning more than just plays under his former coach.
“All of us that played under Coach Brooks learned certain qualities that molded us as an adult,” Bullock said. “There is always someone in your life that will steer you in the right direction in your life and that person was Coach Brooks. He taught us work ethic and the trait of doing things with a passion.”
The school’s alumni established a scholarship in Brooks’ name at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke in 2010.
Playing under Brooks, Nathan Ray helped lead the Pirates to a third-place finish in the state basketball playoffs in the 1959-60 season.
“He taught me that discipline gets you where you want to be,” he said.
Gil Carroll, who played for Brooks in 1971, his final year as the head football coach, echoed Ray’s sentiments.
“He touched more peoples’ lives than any man on this Earth that I know of,” said Carroll, who later became the Pirates’ football coach while Brooks was athletic director.
“I saw him in so many different lights,” Carroll said. “He wore so many different hats. He was a father figure to so many people. He was a great man and he leaves a great legacy.”
Before coming to Lumberton, Brooks, who was inducted into the North Carolina Athletic Directors Association Hall of Fame in 2004, spent five years coaching at Holmes High School in Edenton.
“Tunney was one of the first men to organize the NCADA,” said Ronnie Chavis, who spent more than two decades as the athletic director for the county school system. “There were so many things that he did that he doesn’t get credit for. He was the guy behind the scenes. He was one of those guys that wasn’t in the limelight a lot. He was a special individual.”
While attending Charles Coon High School in Wilson, Brooks was a three-sport athlete who led both the football and baseball teams to state titles. In 1944 and 1945, he was selected to the all-state baseball and basketball teams.
Brooks enlisted in the Army after graduating from Charles Coon and spent one year in Alaska playing basketball and baseball. The baseball team won the 1947 Alaskan Division Championship and was ranked as one of the top service teams in the world.
After receiving his discharge from the Army, Brooks enrolled at Wake Forest University and served as the captain on both the baseball and basketball teams. It was there that he met and became friends with golf legend Arnold Palmer, who years later would pull Brooks from the gallery during a practice round at the Masters to join him for a walk down the fairway.
Brooks’ crowning achievement as an athlete came when he was a catcher on the U.S. team that played in the first-ever Pan American Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1951, winning the silver medal.
In an interview with Wake Forest’s campus newspaper in February 1949, Brooks talked about his future plans.
“I’d like to coach, I guess,” Brooks said. “I know that I won’t be able to play ball forever, so I’d like to teach what little I’ve learned.”
Brooks, who was born in Nash County on June 28, 1927, to the late Wade Ruffin Brooks and the late Bronna Bray Brooks, is survived by two sons, Richie Brooks of Lumberton and John Brooks of Easley, S.C., both of whom played basketball for their father; a daughter, Debbie Morris of Springfield, Mo.; a sister, Ellen Deans of Wilson; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Gladys “Frances” Brooks, and an older brother, Bill Brooks, a longtime athletics director at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
There will be a graveside service at 10 a.m. Friday at Meadowbrook Cemetery in Lumberton.
Staff writer Brad Crawford contributed to this report.