Ex-Bobcat Brooks upholds firefighting tradition


Posted by Mark Hendricks

University News Service

Aug. 10, 2007

SAN MARCOS – Challenges are nothing new to Julie Brooks.

She has faced them on the basketball court and in the classroom and has excelled in both settings.

Now she is facing a challenge that is testing her both physically and academically. If she is successful, it will launch a new career and allow her to carry on a three-generation family tradition.

Julie Brooks is becoming a firefighter.

Brooks was accepted into the Austin Fire Department Academy in April, and will graduate from the ranks of cadet to full-fledged firefighter in October. It marks a new direction for someone who had begun her career as a teacher and coach.

Brooks was a stellar basketball player at Smithville High School . So good, in fact, that she scored 30 points in the state championship game against state power Winnsboro in her senior year.

“It was awesome,” said Brooks. “We were losing by double figures for most of the game, but we never gave up. We ended up losing by only three. It was disappointing to lose, but being in that game is something I’ll never forget.”

Brooks was second in her high school graduating class, and her combination of athletic ability and classroom performance made her attractive to college basketball coaches around the country. Recruiting calls came from dozens of NCAA Division II schools and from Division I schools as well, including the University of Idaho , Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Radford, Sam Houston State and Texas State .

“I really wanted to play in Division I. Idaho was too cold. Radford didn’t have football. Corpus Christi didn’t have a conference at the time, and I just didn’t really like Sam Houston very much. On the other hand, Texas State was a big school, an hour from home and it seemed like a fun place to go to college and play basketball,” she said.

True to the form she exhibited in high school, Brooks excelled both on the court and in the classroom at Texas State . The sharp-shooting guard was twice named to the Southland Conference All-Academic team and was a two-time honorable mention All Conference honoree. In 2002-03, when the Bobcats won the Southland Conference Tournament and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, she was named to the SLC All Tournament team.

In four years – all the while participating in a grueling athletic schedule – she earned her bachelor’s degree in exercise and sports science. She had performed so well academically that she was selected to deliver the student commencement address at her graduation ceremony. Two years later, she completed a master’s degree in health education.

Her former coach, Texas State women’s basketball coach Suzanne Fox, says that is typical Julie Brooks.

“In all aspects of her life, Julie is driven for excellence. She played with a high level of energy and passion,” said Fox. “She always wanted to be the best player, the best student and the best role model for our program. She was wonderful with the community, both adults and children alike. In my opinion, she epitomizes the term ‘student athlete.’”

Last August, she began a teaching and coaching career at Friendswood High School near Houston . She taught physical education and was the junior varsity girls’ basketball coach and an assistant track coach.

And then, in April, all that changed.

That was when she learned she had been accepted into the Austin Fire Academy , and that she had a chance to fulfill a longtime goal and continue a family tradition.

Her family tree includes five Austin firefighters. Maternal grandfather Tom Priddy was in AFD for 26 years and retired as a lieutenant. Her father, Kevin Brooks, and stepmother, Becky Brooks, both served in AFD for 25 years and retired with the rank of captain. Brother Clint Brooks and sister-in-law Aaron Brooks have served in AFD for five and six years respectively.

Brooks had begun applying to the Austin academy as early as her junior year at Texas State . She had spoken with her father many times about his career and later went along with her brother on several “rideouts.” She found the work fascinating and, after all, it was in her blood.

Gaining acceptance to the fire academy is not easy. Few make it on their first attempt. But, in spite of the fact that she had recently embarked on a new career as a teacher and coach, when Brooks learned she had a shot at continuing the family tradition, she did not hesitate.

“It is just an incredible challenge. But I have always liked challenges,” she said. “I think being a student athlete has helped with my experiences at the academy so far. Being physically active and in shape has obviously helped, but there is a very important mental aspect as well. Basketball is all about being a member of a team, and so is firefighting. Having an understanding of concepts of teamwork has helped tremendously.”

The physical and mental aspects of the fire academy can be grueling, Brooks said, even moreso than college. In addition to firefighting techniques, the cadets must learn basic EMT skills, forcible entry, vehicle rescue and many other job skills. Written and physical tests are frequent, and failure is frowned upon.

“They want the best. They do not want you if you cannot do your part,” she said.

Firefighting is a predominantly male profession, but Brooks said she has had only positive experiences as one of the few females in the cadet class.

“Both my stepmother and my sister-in-law have been firefighters, and the stories they tell me are of positive experiences. And I’ve had nothing but positive experiences so far myself,” she said.

As her cadet training continues, Brooks said she sometimes compares it to the challenges she faced on the court and in the classroom at Texas State .

“My parents taught me to see things through till the end. With this (fire academy), there are some days that are so hard I don’t know if I can make it through to another day. But the discipline I received from my parents’ upbringing and the lessons I learned in college taught me that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

Her former coach has confidence that Julie will achieve her latest goal.

“She is just a tremendous competitor. She will succeed,” said Fox.