Oddly, Mark Brooks dreamed more about becoming an athletic director than a coach when he was a kid.
Growing up near Rock Island High School, Brooks admired longtime Rocks AD and public address announcer Shorty Almquist. As a young boy, Brooks earned the privilege of running track results up to Almquist.
“I thought, man that would be a great job sitting in the press box and announcing,” Brooks recalled. “I always thought there were some neat things about being athletic director.
“I didn’t realize all the nuances of trying to keep kids from jumping over the fence like I did.”
The end of June will mark the conclusion of Brooks’ career in high school athletics. Since 1976, he’s held a variety of positions at Bettendorf, serving as AD the past 13 years.
Last month, the Bettendorf School Board approved the early retirement of the 61-year-old Brooks. After 37 years in the district, though, Brooks isn’t easing into obscurity.
At the same board meeting, he asked for and received permission to organize a fundraising campaign to install synthetic FieldTurf on the football and soccer fields at the high school. Brooks also aims to raise funds to improve the wrestling room.
“Our weight room is great, but we’re looking at converting the current space into a wrestling room,” he said. “One of the great things that would enhance all our sports would be the FieldTurf. Any outdoor sport that wants to practice on it will have a place. It will impact a great number of students.”
Brooks began his career in education following a successful basketball career at Rock Island and Augustana as a 6-foot-2 guard. He first worked as a varsity assistant in East Chicago, Ind., for a year before returning to the Quad-Cities.
For 13 seasons, he assisted Denny Thiessen with the Bettendorf boys basketball team, which won a state title in 1986. Brooks then spent 12 years as head coach, reaching the state tournament six times and going 170-87 before resigning in 2000.
In his time before becoming AD, Brooks taught middle school and high school science. He also coached football, girls track and girls basketball at the middle school level.
“I thoroughly enjoyed coaching,” Brooks said. “One of the reasons I pursued education was the chance to work with kids outside the classroom. In hindsight, I wish I would have had a few more years I could have devoted to being a coach.”
That’s not to say he hasn’t enjoyed his time as an administrator. He’s overseen unmatched success in the athletic program and has made several notable coaching hires, including basketball successor Kevin Skillett.
In his 11 seasons, Skillett has taken an already successful team to new heights. He’s been to five state tournaments and won the 2005 state championship. That title team featured Brooks’ oldest son, Andy.
“Without strong leadership, you’re not going to have that kind of success,” Skillett said. “I think you find that the coaches and staff are really passionate about Bettendorf. Mark just exemplifies that.
“We’re going to greatly, greatly miss him.”