Hall of Honor inductees recount many influences
“I’ve got a picture of my seventh birthday party,” Cooke remembered. “Gordon was there. Tony was there too.”
All that was missing Friday night was the birthday cake. Donny Brooks, Tony Brooks, Ken Esten Cooke, Kevin Cooke, Cecelia Holder and Gordon McKee became the seventh class of inductees in the Rockdale Sports Hall of Honor.
The newest members were introduced at a banquet in their honor Friday at the high school and then later introduced before the Rockdale-Navasota football game that night. There are now 76 members of the Hall of Honor, which acknowledges athletes and contributors from Rockdale and Aycock schools.
The evening couldn’t help but have a brothers-in-arms theme with Donny and Tony Brooks and Ken Esten and Kevin Cooke being inducted.
“If Tony hadn’t been my older brother, I would have been the man,” joked Donny Brooks, a 1988 RHS graduate who played football at Texas Tech.
Tony Brooks, a 1985 graduate who played football at TCU, recounted the hard work that precluded the success.
“It was different back in the day,” Brooks said. “We put in the work. We always trained hard.You can’t push kids like that today. There’s too much air conditioning.
Tony Brooks became the first honoree to have an offspring attending RHS at the time of his induction. His son Elijah is a star for the Tiger football team.
The Brooks brothers both cited their parents, Rev. Dennis Brooks and mom Clara as influences and living in a household where grades came first over athletic accomplishment.
“Our parents taught us to be prepared for success,” Donny Brooks said. “They demanded excellence.”
McKee and the Brooks brothers also took time to thank Allen Sanders, who was the track coach during their time in high school and who was in attendance at the ceremony.
“He didn’t care how hard he worked me” Donny Brooks said, “He was going to prepare me to have a chance to win.”
“Rockdale sports had a lot of athletes back in my era that really took pride in sports.”
“What I started here gave me the opportunity to travel and see the world,” said McKee, a 1985 RHS graduate who attended Southwest Texas State and was an international track star. “We learned team work, learned how to get along, practice hard and never give up. Coach Sanders put the hammer down on us and expected we work hard. It motivated me.”
McKee also recalled their humble beginnings in sports.
“We started sandlot before sandlot came out. “We used to make baseballs with foil and duct tape. My dad used to get mad because there wasn’t ever any foil or duct tape in the house.”
“It helped me grow as a person and a man and helped me to give back. It’s great to come back and see all of us “younger”.
Ken Esten Cooke—RHS 1985— remembers a particularly difficult football practice in the seventh grade that steered him towards a full-time tennis career.
“Douglas Dunn ran over me instead of at me. I decided to go to tennis.”
“It is an honor to be mentioned in the presence of all these families,” said Cooke who spoke in the presence of 15 of his own family members.
“Kevin and I had some great coaches along the way,” he said. “Dusty Loewe was a fine tennis player himself and Rick Spencer showed us the finer points of doubles.”
Cooke also pointed to his father Bill as “by far our greatest inspiration.”
The Cooke brothers were as different as night and day, but on the court, they were one.
“There’s something about brother’s communication extra sense of knowing what the other was going to do
“We fought, but when we got out on the court, we were going to take care of business.”
Cooke and his younger brother Kevin won state in doubles in 1985, still the only state championship in RHS tennis history.
Kevin Cooke, a 1986 graduate who passed away at age 40 in 2008, was represented by his son Kevin.
“It’s a great honor to accept this for the man who taught me to play tennis by beating me mercilessly,” he joked. “My dad would have loved all this because everyone would be paying attention to him and he would love that.”
Cecilia Holder, a 1983 RHS graduate, thanked her parents— especially her mother who is a cancer survivor—and her sister.
“It’s a huge honor to be included with all these great athletes.”