STROHECKER: 'Thank you, Eli' chant a fitting tribute
- Eli Brooks finished his high school career with 2,426 points, second most in York County history.
- Brooks will play for the University of Michigan next season.
- In his four years, Brooks helped resurrect the Rockets, leading them to a first league title in 40 years and first state wins in history.
With 1 minute, 33 seconds left in Sunday's game against Archbishop Wood, at 8:44 p.m., the Spring Grove High School basketball career of Eli Brooks was over.
There was no grand send off. No standing ovation as he was subbed out.
Instead, he just took his place on the bench, along with a number of other Rockets, following a timeout. It came moments before their season came to an end with a 71-46 loss in the PIAA Class 5-A quarterfinals to the Vikings.
It was about as anti-climatic as you can get, especially for one of the best individual careers in York County basketball history.
In a way, however, it was fitting.
For the last four years, Brooks never made anything solely about himself, so why would his final high school game in the blue Spring Grove jersey be any different?
When the game finally ended, and the team lined up under one of the baskets at Santander Arena for a photo, that's when the Rockets' fans paid their respects to Brooks. They chanted, "Thank you, Eli," in tribute to a career that helped resurrect a dormant program.
Over his four years with Spring Grove, Brooks gave his fans in Papertown — and all across York County — 2,426 reasons to respect him. That's the total number of points he scored in his career with the Rockets, putting him second all-time in York County in that category, trailing only Eastern York's Andrew Nicholas.
He was also the most sought-after recruit in area history, garnering more than two dozen NCAA Division I scholarship offers, many of which came from high-major programs, before ultimately settling on Michigan, where he'll begin taking classes in June and play basketball next season. His basketball career is far from over, but the one he had in York County is done.
Asked to reflect on his four years as a member of the Spring Grove team, the normally humble Brooks said he's proud of how he developed from just a spot-up shooter to one who could score in nearly every fashion possible. He's grown from a scrawny 5-foot, 3-inch freshman to a 6-foot, 1-inch Division I-caliber player.
He provided many individual reasons for becoming a revered player in these parts. Yet, it's on a team scale where his greatest impact was felt.
The rebirth of Rockets basketball wasn't just about Brooks, but, in a lot of ways, it was.
When he arrived as a freshman for the 2013-14 season, Spring Grove went just 7-15. But, each year after provided more and more reasons for hope. The team won 15 games his sophomore season, qualifying for the Y-A League playoffs and District 3 tournament. Last year, the Rockets totaled 24 wins, won the program's first league title in more than 40 years, made the District 3 4-A semifinals and qualified for states for the first time in program history. Then, there was this season, again topping 20 wins, making it back to the league, district and state tournaments, and then actually winning a couple of games in states, another first in the program's long history.
Along the way, fans took notice, regularly packing the Spring Grove High School gym, not just to catch a glimpse of Brooks, but to watch winning basketball again.
"Just being able to say that we did these things, especially 10, 15 years from now, that we'll be remembered for all the firsts that we accomplished at Spring Grove," Brooks said after Sunday's game when reflecting on his Rockets' career.
Maybe it wasn't the grand send off expected for someone who meant so much to a program. Playing on an ailing ankle, Brooks totaled just 16 points in the loss, by far one of his lowest offensive outputs this season.
It hardly mattered, however, to the fans who got the chance to watch him play for the final time at such a personal level, before he becomes engulfed in the world of high-major Division I athletics.
His mark was already made and won't soon be forgotten.
The "Thank you, Eli," chants that rang throughout a nearly empty Santander Arena are proof of that.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org