The Sam Brooks Story
When I was growing up in Livingston, the area where the Livingston Regional Medical Center and several medical buildings are now located, did not look like it does today. That area of town, which was really just a street then, was known as Jam Holler. I've never known where the name came from, unless it was because so many small houses built there were crowded very closely together. The town branch meandered its way in close proximity to the homes there. Most of the families who lived in Jam Holler had a hard time keeping the wolf away from the door. One of the homes there was occupied by Mrs. Ermine Upchurch who had grown children. Mrs. Upchurch had a daughter named Ruby who was married to Shirley Brooks. Shirley died from what was believed to have been tuberculosis. At the time of Shirleyís death, he and Ruby had five small children, the oldest, a little boy named Sam, only eight years old. After losing her husband, Ruby decided she would go to Indiana to find work. When she went away, she left her children in the care of Mrs. Upchurch, their grandmother. Ruby was successful in finding a job, and for two or three years, she sent money home to Mrs. Upchurch to help take care of the children. Eventually she remarried. Not long after she married again, Ruby wrote her mother a letter that contained some rather shocking news. Ruby advised her mother that she would not be returning to Tennessee, and that she could no longer care for her children. She went on to say that her mother could give the children away, or put them in an orphanage, whatever she wanted to do, it really didn't matter to her. Needless to say, Mrs. Upchurch did none of the above. The children remained with her, and she did her best to provide a good home for them, which meant she had to depend on welfare. In addition to Sam, the other Brooks grandchildren she raised were Barbara, Joe, Bill, and Edith Ann.
When Sam was in high school, one of the jobs he had was running the projector at the Ritz Theater. He speaks very highly of the close friendship he developed with Fred and Marinella Rose, co-owners at one time of the Ritz. Lucian Copeland, owner of a pool hall just off the square on Church Street, was another person who provided part time work for Sam. Sam told me one of the extra benefits that came with working at the pool hall was becoming a pretty good shot with a pool stick.
Sam's military career ended with just a year and a half served because of his being diagnosed with tuberculosis. As a result of his illness, part of one lung had to be surgically removed. His recovery took six months in several different military hospitals.
A position as director of physical education in an
elementary school in Florida was Sam's first teaching job, but when a
chance to move back to the hills of Tennessee became a possibility, Sam
and Helen relocated to South Pittsburg, Tenn., where he was hired as an
assistant football coach and head basketball coach. Prior to his
becoming a member of the teaching and coaching staff at South Pittsburg,
football was the favored sport at that school. Under his leadership,
interest in basketball grew immensely for South Pittsburg residents.
During his coaching career, Sam was selected by United Press
International to serve on a panel of 10 coaches who each week selected
Tennessee's top 10 basketball teams. Fellow coaches in the Sequatchie
Valley Conference elected him president of the organization. Sam's
involvement in community affairs and organizations grew almost as fast
as his coaching skills. Over the years, many honors have been bestowed
upon him because of his involvement in the Jaycees and Lion's Club
organizations of South Pittsburg. One newspaper article in which Sam
received an award for the South Pittsburg Lion's Club Lion of the Year
stated that membership in the Lion's Club had nearly doubled in size
under Sam's term as president. Numerous other awards were presented to
Sam for his outstanding achievements while a member of the South
Pittsburg Lionís Club.
Sam Brooks during his coaching career at South Pittsburg high school.
of 2004, South Pittsburg high school honored two of their former coaches
with the renaming of their basketball facility to the "Brooks-Fuqua
Gymnasium." Sam shared this honor with a former South Pittsburg girls'
basketball coach, Bebe Fuqua. Sam's contribution included his work toward
the establishment of classifications in basketball that he dedicated much
time and energy to. In a newspaper article that appeared in The South
Pittsburg Hustler, Sam's efforts regarding basketball classifications of
schools is commended, and as a result of all his hard work, he has helped
make the dream of a state championship possible for all high schools
throughout the volunteer state.
Many newspaper articles have been written about the long list of achievements Sam received much deserved credit for during his years of coaching, but probably none of these compare to letters he got from young men who once played on his teams. One such letter was written by Houston Vaughn, a young man who grew up in Livingston, and whose parents were Joe and Clem Vaughn, was a member of one of the bantam teams Sam coached in Livingston. In a letter to Sam that also included a copy of a picture of the team Houston played on, he writes: "The memories from that year of football are special to me. I appreciate the time you guys spent working with us and the interest you showed. I never got big enough to play highschool football so these are my only football memories. I did go out for the team as a junior and senior, but only weighed about 135 pounds so I mostly warmed the bench."
Standing in the very back: Wayne Sells, assistant coach
Back row: Coach Sam Brooks; Charles Neil Eley; Jackie Carr; Mike Matheny; David Endicott; Max Puckett; Bobby Bilbrey; Clark Harward; Jimmy Allred; Dan Hill; Russell Warden; Joe Brooks, assistant coach.
Middle row: Pat Swallows; Eugene Walker; Chipper Stephens; Jimmy Crawford; Dugan Hammock; David Sadler; Mike McCormick; Dicky Mitchell; Terry Crabtree.
Front row: Houston Vaughn; Sluggo Gray; Jerry Carr; John Bradford; Freddie Haney; Earl Wayne Thrasher; Jackie Kirby; Verlin Hyder.
Photo courtesy of Houston Vaughn
Another player Sam coached, this one in South Pittsburg, wrote a letter dated October 19, 2005, which says, in part: "You were one of those few in my life who gave me a strong sense of purpose and direction. I will always cherish the memory of spending time and energy in your company and under your leadership. I just wanted to thank you again and hopefully encourage you at this point in your own life to take great pride in the important role you played in the lives of so many young people. Your friend, Dennis Ridley"
Sam is retired now, but during his long and successful coaching career of 28 years, he won approximately 438 games. I am happy to have had a chance to share Sam's story, and I think I can speak for the town of Livingston by saying we are all so very proud to claim him as one of our own. There are many people who helped to shape Samís life, and he wishes it were possible to list those names without unintentionally leaving anyone out. Since that isnít possible, he does want to express his sincere appreciation and thanks to everyone who helped him along the way. You have Samís assurance that you will never be forgotten. Should anyone want to get in touch with Sam, his mailing address is: 200 Magnolia Avenue, South Pittsburg, TN 37380.