Brooks Holmes Tourney

These young men were part of the Brooks Holmes 2015 championship squad.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally published in the October edition of the North End Community Improvement Collaborative. As we head toward basketball season, we thought it might be a good time to look back at one of the most popular summer basketball tournaments for years in Mansfield.

The annual Brooks Holmes Basketball Tournament has been a treasured North End staple for almost 30 years. The memorial basketball tournament was created in memory of North End basketball legends Darrin Brooks and Ronnie Holmes.

Johns Park was the place to be for all North End residents, people of color and basketball enthusiasts every Labor day weekend. Ironically, Darrin and Ronnie were tragically killed on Sept. 5, 1991, in a car accident while traveling to Mount Vernon Nazarene University (MVNU), where they played college basketball.

In addition to being superstars of the Mansfield Senior High basketball team, Darrin and Ronnie also parlayed their superstardom over to MVNU. Darrin started his college career at the University of Louisville, according to his mother Donna Brooks.

“He had never really been away from home that far, not around some type of family,” Donna said from her home in New York. “So when he did come back home that’s when he started going to Mount Vernon.”

Donna said Darrin and Ronnie would carpool to and from MVNU and back home to save on gas and resources. She said Darrin was a gentle soul and loved to help people.

“He always strived for better and always tried to find the good in people,” she remembered.

Before the accident, Ronnie was about to embark on his senior year of college basketball and according to published reports; he was set up to have his best year yet.

According to a 2018 MVNU Cougars Facebook post, “in his junior season, in 1990-91, the forward shot 52.3% from the floor and led the team in scoring at an average of 19.8 points per game. We remember Ronnie as not only one of the best Cougar Men’s Basketball players ever, but also as an excellent student-athlete and young man.”

The post asked people who remembered Ronnie to comment. Aaron Conrad remarked that Ronnie “may be the most influential person I have ever had in my life. Changed my understanding of what a powerful impact we have on anyone we meet. Ronnie treated everyone with the same level of kindness and compassion, regardless of his unbelievable talent and gifts. (It was) also one of the saddest days of my life.

"I will never forget him. I’ve never met anyone like him and I hope I’ve lived the way he did with respect to the impact we have on others. Miss you Ronnie.”

Dapreis Owens, a high school teammate of the basketball duo, said he played with and against Darrin from the fifth grade up through their senior year of high school.

“Darrin was a good basketball player,” he said. “He was tall-about 6’3.” He had long arms but he had a really soft touch around the basket. He had a decent mid-range jump shot.”

“We would play at his grandmother's house because they had a hoop attached to the garage, so we had a lot of epic battles between me, him, Ronnie, Chris Jones, and others from that hood.”

Dapreis said Darrin were part of the starting five on the 1988 Mansfield Senior High basketball team. He was a power forward with an average of 10.4 points per game for the team that year.

Mansfield native Thomas Murphy originally founded the memorial basketball tournament through his organization Spirit of Ujima.

“When I came home in the early 1990’s, there was nothing for young people to do, kind of like it is now,” said Thomas, who was raised on Bowman Street. “There were no things to do, nothing for a positive outlet for young people and no anti-violence youth programs, no intervention programs, no mentoring and outreach services.

"There’s a number of things that have always been lacking in the African American community and so I was just a pivotal part in starting that.”

A Mansfield Senior High School graduate, Thomas said he had and still has a vested interest in Mansfield’s North End. He relishes in the fact that he was able to bring a positive, non-violent, family friendly event to the Johns Park area.

“Just to be able to raise the consciousness that life is short,” Thomas, who now lives in North Carolina, said. “That we need to be thinking about high academic and career goals.”

Around the year 2012, the Class of 1988 or the “88 Crew” started running the tournament. Chris Jones and Daron Minard were instrumental in organizing the multi-day event in the years to follow, until the last tournament in 2019.

Due to the pandemic, youth violence and other issues, the beloved North End basketball tournament will no longer exist. In addition to Jones and Minard, other members of the “88 Crew” who have helped move the tournament forward are: Byron Patrick(RIP), Julian Fuqua(RIP), Renda Cline, Dee Dee Black, Michele Akens, Bubba Toddie, and Bruh Ewing.

“The park always had summer leagues and other basketball tournaments, but nothing of the magnitude of the Brooks Holmes because of what Ronnie and Darrin meant to the community with all their accolades,” said Dapreis, also a member of the “88 Crew” and basketball phenom in his own right.

“So it was such a blow to the community when they lost their lives and how they lost their lives, I know Thomas only thought it would be fitting to have that memorial and I think that’s why it was so impactful for many years.”

Joy Holmes Harris, the sister of Ronnie, said the Brooks Holmes Tournament is not just special for the whole family, but a “special event for Mansfield as well.”

“It is a nice legacy for my brother who grew up going to Johns Park and Ford Hill Pool,” said Holmes Harris, whose son Gary plays in the NBA. “This tournament is keeping his and Darrin's memory alive.”

The basketball tournament was an outlet for adult and youth players alike. People and teams would travel from around the state and beyond to participate in the tournament. Food and retail vendors would set up in the grass area at the park and a DJ played all the latest hits of the time that set the vibe right.

“What made it so special was the local talent that played in it and the talent it would attract from other cities,” Dapreis said. “Another cool thing was the support from the community because the park was always packed with the community supporting the tournament and us as a people coming together was impactful.”

Generations of North End families and children grew up attending the tournament every year and that’s how it became a staple, Dapreis said

“That’s why (the community is) asking what’s going on with the tournament because people actually grew up with the tournament as like a kid to an adult so I think that has a lot to do with the impact and how impactful it was for the north end,” he said.

Joy agreed, “There are people who were not even born when they were here, but they know of them because of the tournament.”

There are hopes that the tournament will make a comeback as soon as possible.

“Our family was always hopeful that the tournament would help with scholarships for local kids,” Joy said. “I'm not necessarily sure it needs to be run by someone else because Ronnie and Darrin were a part of the 88 crew. They grew up and went to school with them.

"These were their friends. Maybe they just need additional support in securing funding, keeping records, and running the tournament. Maybe then we can actually get the tournament in a position to actually help local kids with some scholarship money.”

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