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Mark Brookes has been the head coach of the Haddam-Killingworth baseball squad ever since the program was founded back in 1976. (Photo courtesy of Mark Brookes )
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In his 44 years as head coach of the Haddam-Killingworth baseball team, Mark Brookes has never experienced anything like he did this year. Every year since 1976, Mark had fielded a team that finished the entirety of each season. However, when coronavirus hit during the winter of 2020, the Cougars were forced to redirect their plans when the spring season was canceled, something that was hard for Mark to fathom.
“It was definitely difficult. What made it most hard was the fact that we were only a couple of days away from pitchers and catchers, and then things started getting pushed back,” Mark says. “Eventually, they ended up calling the season, and it’s been different this spring and summer, not really having that full baseball experience that I’m used to.”
Mark grew up in Haddam and currently lives in town. He was a member of Haddam’s first Little League baseball team and also played baseball and basketball in high school.
After majoring in physical education at Maryville College in Tennessee, Mark knew that he wanted to get into coaching. In 1975, Mark was fortunate enough to get a new opportunity when Haddam-Killingworth High School opened.
“People needed someone to organize a team in college for intramural sports, so I was that guy. Then I played college baseball in the spring,” says Mark. “Coaching was kind of a natural thing for me. I loved working with kids. I was lucky enough timing-wise to be hired at H-K right when they were building the high school.”
Mark was hired as H-K’s first baseball coach in the spring of 1976. However, the team didn’t have any juniors or seniors on its roster, so H-K had to start out as a JV program.
“In the spring [of 1977], we fielded our first varsity team,” Mark says. “We did relatively well in the junior varsity league our first year, and we probably could have stayed in JV, but I decided to push us forward.”
Mark’s strategy worked out pretty well for the Cougars. Mark has led the H-K baseball team to 44-straight winning seasons, including five appearances in the state final.
“The field was just an open area with a backstop when we first got established as a program,” says Mark. “We’ve built this program from the ground up with a lot of help from parents and students throughout the years. The facilities have changed significantly since the ’70s, but it’s all the same for me. The love for the game never changes.”
Mark also taught physical education at H-K for 36 years before retiring in 2011. He enjoys residential painting as one of his side professions.
“If it weren’t for the painting, I think it would have been harder for me with this whole pandemic this year,” Mark says. “I’ve always enjoyed painting, and it’s turned into more of a fun hobby for me than anything.”
Despite the cancellation of the spring season, Mark has plenty of optimism for 2021. Mark has been taking the proper precautions, ensuring that his health is well kept at 69 years old.
“I think we have a much better chance of playing than the fall sports, especially given the nature of a lot of these fall sports. A lot of them are contact in nature, and it will be tough for them to play,” Mark says. “Everyone just has to keep maintaining that social distance, and I’ve been doing that by wearing masks and limiting where I shop with my wife.”
Mark expresses great thanks to his wife Raye for encouraging his longevity in the sport that he loves. Mark says that Raye has constantly supported him through the years and calls her his rock.
“I couldn’t do it without her,” says Mark. “She’s been so supportive of every team, and she always bakes cookies for the boys. She’s a great support system, and I don’t know if I would be in this sport still without her.”
A New York Yankees’ fan, Mark is happy to see Major League Baseball back in action. Mark hopes that H-K is able to get back on the ballfield come next spring.
“It’s different with no fans in the stands, but it’s good to have baseball back,” Mark says. “I hope that’s a sign of things to come for us.”
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