Saturday, October 16, 2021
Oct. 16, 2021

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Martinez: Perfect honor for two Prairie basketball coaches

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor

For 14 seasons, Kyle Brooks and Jimmy Tuominen shared a bench at Prairie High School as mentor and protégé.

On Thursday, the two men will share a stage as best of friends.

Brooks, who retired last month as the Prairie boys basketball coach, and Tuominen, who was tabbed to succeed Brooks as coach, will both receive the Pat Fitterer Positive Coach Award at the annual Hall of Fame banquet of the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association.

“Pat Fitterer was such a great coach, so to be getting an award with his name on it is truly an honor,” Brooks said of the Hall of the Fame coach who was the second-winningest coach in state history when he retired from Ellensburg High School in 2014. “But to get that honor and share the moment with Jimmy is just going to make it even more special.”

Tuominen first caught Brooks’ attention when Tuominen was an assistant coach at Heritage. A couple of years later in 2006, Brooks reached out to Tuominen to fill a vacancy on his staff.

“The timing was right,” Tuominen said. “I hadn’t been coaching for a couple of years, and I was interested in getting back into it.”

Tuominen started out coaching Prairie’s C-squad team before becoming the junior varsity coach and Brooks’ varsity assistant.

“Over the years, he’s gone from being my head coach, my mentor, to being my really good friend,” Tuominen said. “I don’t think you can work with someone for 14 years and not become friends.”

The two men’s relationship took an unnerving turn during the winter of 2019-20, when Prairie took a trip to Yakima for a tournament.

“I remember Kyle was not feeling well that entire trip,” Tuominen said. “He would sort of quarantine himself in his hotel room and just leave for the games. Then on the drive home, he got worse. After we got home, he called me the next day and said I would need to coach the team in our next game against Timberline.”

Brooks’ conditioned worsened and he had to be admitted to the hospital. Doctors diagnosed Brooks with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves leading to temporary paralysis.

“It became pretty clear that I would need to coach the team for an extended period of time,” Tuominen said. “It was pretty hard. Your friend is in the hospital, not able to communicate. And then you’ve got these kids who you are trying to keep focused and get ready to play.”

Tuominen said he kept in constant contact with Brooks’ wife, Jane. He would also visit Brooks at the hospital a couple times a week, then relay updates back to the team.

“We would start every practice by talking about Coach,” Tuominen said. “We had a great group of kids at Prairie that year, some senior leaders who really stepped up.”

As Brooks made a slow but steady recovery, Tuominen led the Falcons to a 10-4 mark and into the 3A bi-district playoffs.

“Jimmy did such a great job with that team,” Brooks said. “And it didn’t surprise me a bit. Jimmy is so great working with the kids.”

In the fall of 2019, Brooks was informed by the WIBCA that he would be the recipient of the Fitterer award after leading Prairie to the 3A state tournament the previous winter.

Brooks was set to receive the honor as the annual Hall of Fame banquet in the summer of 2020. But that event was scrapped amid the pandemic last summer.

Then last fall, WIBCA chose to honor Tuominen with the very same award, and both men would be honored at the 2021 banquet.

“It’s a tremendous honor to receive that award, especially as an assistant coach, an interim coach,” Tuominen said. “But to get to share that moment with Kyle, it’s going to be a pretty special night.”

Brooks recovered from his ordeal to return to the sidelines with the Prairie boys teams this past spring. But about midway through the season, he came to the decision to retire at the end of the season.

“During my recovery, I was so focused on getting back to the team,” Brooks said. “So when the season began, it was a great to be coaching again. But as the season went along, I realized that I needed to take some more time and get fully healthy.”

Brooks looks back at his 21 seasons at Prairie with pride and joy.

He recalls his first season at Prairie in 2000-01 with players like Matt Conboy and Adam Horn. The Falcons reached the state semifinals in Brooks’ first two years at Prairie.

He enjoyed working alongside other longtime coaches at Prairie like baseball coach Don Freeman, tennis coach Chris Linquist and golf coach Paul Shapard. And he mentioned his last full season in 2018-19 as a special memory, when Kam Osborn broke the school scoring record, and the Falcons returned to the state tournament for the eighth time under Brooks.

“But for the wins and league titles, the most important thing is all the relationships I’ve been able to build over my time at Prairie with the players, the coaches and all the staff at Prairie,” Brooks said. “That’s what I’ll remember most.”

And he knows the Prairie program is in capable hands under Tuominen.

“I’m just going to try to continue the tradition of excellence that Kyle has built over the years,” Tuominen said. “I’m just so excited to get started. November can’t get here soon enough.”

Brooks said he plans to help Tuominen in any way he can, from afar at first then maybe get more involved as his health improves.

As Tuominen has spent this summer coordinating workouts with the Prairie team, Brooks has spent his time relaxing with family, doing some physical therapy, playing golf and going for walks.

On Thursday, he’ll walk onto the stage with Tuominen at the WIBCA banquet and share one more memorable moment with his good friend.

“That’s really what it’s all about,” Brooks said.