Erik Brooks, Liberty Bell High School’s cross-country coach for the past two seasons, has been named Coach of the Year in the 1B/2B classification by a statewide organization of cross-country and track-and-field coaches.
Brooks, who also is the high school art teacher and an assistant track coach, guided the Liberty Bell girls’ cross-country teams to consecutive state 1B/2B championships in 2017 and 2018. The boys’ teams finished second in 2017 and tied for 10th place in 2018. He was an assistant cross-country coach for five years, including in 2016 when the Lady Lions won the first of three consecutive state titles.
Brooks is also widely known as an author and illustrator of several children’s books, including “Polar Opposites,” which won a Washington State Book Award. He also contributes the weekly cartoon panel, Harts Pass, for the Methow Valley News.
Brooks lives in Winthrop with his wife, Sarah, and daughter Keeley — who competes on the Lady Lions’ cross-country team. Sarah is also an assistant cross-country coach.
Brooks said the coaches’ organization coordinates competition around the state. As part of the group, he successfully advocated for the inclusion of more girls’ teams at the state meet. Last fall, the number of girls’ teams invited to the state meet increased from eight to 12.
“You could palpably feel that it was a different race,” Brooks said. “There were more parents and students.”
Brooks said he was a soccer player, not a runner, in high school. But at Carlton College in Northfield, Minnesota, he ran both cross-country and track and “got hooked on it … it set me on a path.” He eventually coached at Carlton for four years, where one of the student athletes was Matt Hinckley — now the science and health teacher at Liberty Bell Junior High School.
Brooks is known for his detailed, personalized assessment of each team member’s performance after a meet. That started when the cross-country team had fewer members, but he still continues the practice in a blog.
“It makes kids feel like they are being paid attention to and seen,” Brooks said. “Everybody matters.”
That attention has paid off for the program. Five years ago, Brooks noted, there wasn’t even a girls’ team. Now the Lady Lions are a dynasty. “There is a real satisfaction in that and seeing them grow,” he said.
The boys’ and girls’ teams are primed throughout the season for regional and state competition. Brooks finds meets around the state where Liberty Bell is matched against mostly larger schools to face the challenge of tough competition.
“We definitely have done that intentionally,” Brooks said. “We’re a little bit lucky in that we can race against bigger schools and beat them. They are confidence boosters.”
Brooks said he sees himself coaching for a long while. “It’s definitely interesting, and I like the sport,” he said.