More Than a Game: Springbrook rallies around fallen alum

June 3, 2012

It was a Friday afternoon in late April and Goucher College freshman Damon Brooks was looking forward to the weekend.

Horsing around, the Springbrook High basketball standout grabbed his roommate, a fellow Goucher teammate, and lifted him off the ground. Brooks’s knees buckled and the boys tumbled to the ground. On his way down, with his teammate on top of him, Brooks hit his head and broke his neck. Immediately, he realized something was wrong. Unable to feel or move his limbs, Damon told his roommate to call an ambulance.

Two surgeries and more than a month later, Damon Brooks does his best to keep his spirits up as he lies in his bed at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. He has regained some sensation and minimal movement in his right arm but not his legs. Photographs of him playing basketball decorate the walls near his bed. He has stopped asking “Why me?” and is trying to turn his focus to his rehabilitation. The pictures serve as his inspiration to get up and get moving again. So do his current and former coaches and teammates who have become part of the constant stream of visitors.

“He lights up when he sees his teammates,” said Brooks’s mother, Latre’ Zankli, “and that makes me feel so good inside.”

One of the first people to visit Brooks after the accident was Springbrook assistant coach Darnell Myers.

Days after the accident, Myers started calling Brooks’s former teammates. Most had already heard about it, but that’s not why he was calling. “He did so much for this basketball program,” said Myers, including help win a state championship, “that we wanted to give back something to him.”

Anticipating future medical expenses (wheelchairs, specialized rehabilitation equipment, etc.) that won’t be covered by insurance, Myers organized what he hopes will become the annual Damon Brooks Charity Game. Between Goucher players and Springbrook alumni, there were enough players to host two games. Friends, alumni, and former coaches had t-shirts and wrist bands printed to sell. The booster club ran concessions alongside a bake sale. A large donation box was conveniently placed in front of patrons as they bought their $5 tickets — over 400 were sold.

“I didn’t know how many people’s lives he touched until his tragedy,” said Brooks’s mother, Latre’ Zankli. “I knew he was a good person, but the outpouring has just been overwhelming.”

Hours before the game, Damon called his mom with a special request. He dislikes hospital food and wanted his mom to bring him something to eat. More importantly, he needed his laptop. While he couldn’t physically be in the gym, he wasn’t going to miss the games. His mom hopped in the car and headed towards Baltimore. “A mother has to do what a mother has to do,” she said.

She would miss the first game while driving back, but Damon wouldn’t.

With the help of his nurses and his girlfriend Alex Sanderson’s iPad, Brooks was able to see everything. For several hours, Wayo Adjei, one of Brooks’s best friends, walked circles around the court, turning the iPad camera from the game, to the crowd, and back to the game.

“It’s unfortunate what happened to him,” said Adjei. “We all love him and we just want him to get well.”

8for More high school coverage: Go to allmetsports.com. E-mail ideas for More Than a Game to sandyst@washpost.com

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