HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS
Brinkerhoff Takes Life’s Lessons To Heart
Mainland’s Basketball Coach Returned With A New Outlook But The Same Dedication.
February 12, 2003 | By Ryan Clark, Sentinel Staff Writer
DAYTONA BEACH — The teacher dribbles the ball softly, letting the quiet slaps coincide with his student’s
footfalls. Slap, slap, slap. Step, step, step. As regular as a heartbeat.
His hazel eyes focus, and he smiles — a half-sincere, half-mocking grin — as he watches his players run until they can run no longer.
“Oh, my God,” one of his pupils said, her chest heaving, sweaty jersey sticking to her body. The teacher, Mainland High School girls basketball Coach Charles Brinkerhoff, blows the whistle. The players have to run again.
At 16-4, the girls have a very good chance at the team’s first state playoff berth. . They will open Class 5A, District 5 play Thursday against the winner of Tuesday night’s game between Deltona and New Smyrna Beach.
But you have to practice hard to make the state playoffs.
The drill is called “Monkey.” Ten Mainland players each shoot a free throw, and they must make seven out of 10 as a team. If they don’t, they have to sprint to half-court, pivot and bend at the knees, their fingertips bouncing off the half-court line like a monkey.
This is how Mainland ends every practice. The drill sometimes can last an hour.
It already has taken 25 minutes. The pupils don’t like it at all. They complain. They argue. They shout at one another.
“Do you want to quit?” Brinkerhoff barked, letting the ball bounce away. “Do you?”
After a minute of hesitation, the players respond.
They say no. Some scream it. Some don’t have the breath to scream, so they just mouth the words or shake their heads.
They look at him as they run and slide.
They know he walked away once before, and they even came to that funeral, every single one of them, as a team, because they respect him.
Brinkerhoff finds the ball and bounces it absent-mindedly, as if he’s thinking about something else. He’ll tell you this sport doesn’t matter as much as it used to, when he helped put those championship banners in the gym.
He says he doesn’t care as much now, and that the reason rests in the urn sitting in his mother’s dining room.
But maybe, just maybe, he cares more than he lets on. Maybe now, he cares more than ever. Because the teacher has learned a few things in the past year. He dribbles the ball and watches the team. Slap, slap, slap, against the court. Like a heartbeat.
Charles Brinkerhoff, 41, grew up in Blowing Rock, N.C., in the Appalachian Mountains, where life was the American dream.
Then the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in his family’s yard.
Blake Brinkerhoff, Charles’ father and the local minister, had written a column in the area’s newspaper calling the Klan “cowards.” Just days later, the Klansmen left their mark.
Blake looked out the window, saw the burning cross and called both the police and fire department for help, but it was no use. He realized the authorities were Klan members, too. Slowly, the town was turning on him.
“But we didn’t leave,” Charles said. “That Sunday at church, my father looked out at his congregation and saw those same faces that put a burning cross in our yard, and we didn’t leave.”
Two years later, when a job opened at Highlands Presbyterian in Daytona Beach, the Brinkerhoff family of five uprooted. It was time to stop fighting.
“The Klan didn’t stop altogether, but it softened,” Charles said. “When I grew up and realized what my father had done, I learned that you never quit, no matter what.”
Growing up a less-than-heralded athlete, no one could predict Charles would become a championship high school coach.
“He was always playing something with his two brothers and his father,” said his mother, Jackie. “He learned to be competitive.”
He sat on the bench for Mainland High School’s basketball team. He played intramural basketball at Stetson University. Five years later, he was coaching the junior varsity and teaching history at Mainland, when he married wife Brenda.
When the head coach decided to take the athletic director’s position in 1992, Brinkerhoff was promoted to head coach, even though he had little more than a layman’s knowledge of basketball. A precocious talent named Vince Carter made Brinkerhoff’s first years a little easier, helping win a state title in 1995, Carter’s senior year.
“We’d be practicing, and all of a sudden, the door would open and Dean Smith would walk in to recruit,” Brinkerhoff said. “Or Mike Krzyzewski. And I would soak up as much as I could from them.”
Brinkerhoff once asked Smith what the legendary University of North Carolina coach would do if he were coaching Mainland. So Smith advised, and two more state titles followed, in ’96 and ’98.
Vince Carter still phones Brinkerhoff after his NBA games to discuss how he played.
“It’s been a great ride with Brink,” said Carter, an all-star with the Toronto Raptors. “Even to this day, he is one of my best friends. He was a friend who helped me through all the stuff that players deal with, even on that level.”
Between all the practices, games, meetings and speeches, something began to happen. His three
children — Jared, 9, Logan, 7, and Ashleigh, 3 — were losing out.
“I had to miss one of my son’s school functions,” Brinkerhoff remembers. “It was a play or something, and I had to miss it because I was coaching a game. When I got home later, I asked him how it went, and he just stared at me. He said, `Dad, you weren’t there.’ And he walked away.”
“My father never missed any of my school functions,” he said. “So I decided that was it. I quit coaching after that year.”
COACHING AND TEACHING
“Oh, my God! Let’s do this, y’all!” Mary Davis wails.
Davis, a sophomore forward at Mainland, sits on the court, waiting for her teammates to finish shooting free throws. If the team can make seven, they can go home.
Swish. One free throw down.
Swish. Two down.
Davis sighs with relief, and runs a sweaty hand through her cornrows. Maybe this is almost over.
Coaches yearn for a player with her passion. But she will be the first to say she has problems. Like skipping class.
“I don’t respect nobody like Coach Brink,” she said. “I do what he says.”
Brinkerhoff must be doing something right. He has a 192-49 career coaching record, and he’ll tell you coaching and teaching are the same because they both involve connecting with people.
“So Coach Brink came to my house, and he told me one thing,” Davis said. “He told me that I had my whole life in my hands.
“He told me not to throw it away.”
She goes to the line and makes a free throw. The girls sink three more but miss three as well.
One shot left. If it’s in, everyone goes home. If not, it’s back to the funky monkey.
Carrie Jacobs, Mainland’s center, steps to the line.
“This is it,” Brinkerhoff yells. “You’ve got to make them when you’re tired. This is the final four. This is for everything.”
`I STILL HEAR MY FATHER’
After a year of solely teaching history, Brinkerhoff returned to coaching as a favor to Mainland Athletic Director Dick Toth.
“My kids are at the age now where they can become gym rats,” Brinkerhoff said. “So they’re at the gym with me, all the time. No more missing out.”
The rest of Brinkerhoff’s family always came to Mainland’s games, and the coach’s father would offer advice.
“You’re being too hard on those girls,” his father would say. Much of last season is a blur to Charles. He had to walk away from the team.
On Nov. 1, his father had a heart attack. While on the operating table, he had a stroke, leaving him in serious condition. Blake Brinkerhoff, 67, died Jan. 3.
“I don’t remember much of anything from that time,” Charles said. But he does remember the entire Mainland girls basketball squad came to the funeral.
“We went to every game we were physically able to, so the girls knew us real well,” said Jackie, Charles’ mother. “We’re all convinced that Blake’s still with us, really. We know that when something good happens, he’s there to see it.”
Blake’s ashes now rest in an urn in Jackie’s living room. When Charles returned to basketball, he was different.
“It just didn’t matter as much,” he said. “I don’t know if that sounds bad, but it’s just another way to show you what your priorities in life are. During games, I still hear my father shouting at me, telling me to go easy on the girls.”
Maybe the wins and losses don’t matter as much, but to the teacher, the importance of personal connections never changes.
At the end of the month, Brinkerhoff will be honored as Mainland’s teacher of the year.
“I know I’ve been blessed,” he said. “As a teacher and coach, you’re a part of these students’ growing-up experiences, and you can’t trade that relationship. It’s wonderful. And this group — well, this group of girls is special.”
“Coaching girls is so much different than coaching boys,” the teacher says. “For one thing, girls are so much more appreciative of the learning. Boys? They don’t show appreciation. They rebel. Girls do nice things for you. They give me Christmas gifts.”
He smiles and slowly dribbles. Slap, slap, slap. On the free-throw line, Jacobs dribbles a ball of her own. Once, twice.
She bends at the knees, swings her arm back, elbow in, and lets fly. The ball falls through.
Relieved, the girls converge at midcourt, eager to go home. They huddle and shout words of encouragement.
“That’s what good teams do,” Brinkerhoff says.
“They make them when they’re tired.”
Then they pounce on him, all 10 players, all trying to rub the bald spot on the back of his head, just for fun.
“We got you!” Davis shouts.
And the teacher laughs.
As the girls leave, he packs and looks to the ceiling, where three gold-and-blue banners hang — one for each boys state title.
“It would be a great story if we’d hang a girls banner up there,” he says. He starts to walk out of the gym, slowly bouncing the ball in his right hand. Slap, slap, slap.
Like a heartbeat.