William J. “Bill” Brooks, a legendary and beloved figure in North Carolina sports circles and the widely recognized father of UNCW’s athletic program, died Monday afternoon at the Lower Cape Fear Hospice Center. He was 88. Brooks, who just celebrated his birthday on Oct. 13, passed away peacefully. Funeral arrangements are pending. “The university will forever be indebted to Bill Brooks,” said Chancellor Rosemary DePaolo. “He built our athletic program from the ground up, literally, and devoted his entire life to UNCW Athletics. All of the UNCW family extends our most sincere condolences to his family and friends. Coach Brooks will be missed by Seahawks everywhere.”
Brooks was UNCW’s first athletic director and served 40 years in that post until his retirement on June 30, 1991. The iconic figure put the school’s athletic fortunes on the map with vision, leadership, and, often, countless hours of manual labor.
Brooks grew up in Wilson, N.C., and enjoyed a stellar sports career at Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College) and Wake Forest before embarking on his coaching career. He was a three-sport star at Charles L. Coon High School in Wilson and attended Wake Forest briefly before serving in World War II.
Brooks played baseball at Enid (Okla.) Air Force Base before earning his undergraduate degree at Atlantic Christian in 1948. He then played and coached in Nova Scotia, where his teams won the Halifax District League Championship three years from 1951-53.
The highly-respected baseball coach later moved to Wilmington and coached the city’s American Legion team to a state and area championship in 1956. Brooks began his career at UNCW, then Wilmington College, in 1951 as athletic director, head basketball coach, head baseball coach and chairman of the health and physical education department.
During his time as Wilmington College’s baseball coach, he established the Seahawks as one of the top programs in the junior college ranks. He led the Seahawks to national championships in 1961 and 1963 and a runner-up finish in 1962. In 27 seasons as baseball coach on three different levels, he compiled a 574-292-6 record, being named NAIA District 29 Coach-of-the-Year five times and NAIA National Coach-of-the-Year in 1975 after taking the Seahawks to the NAIA World Series.
Brooks also enjoyed success as a basketball coach. He piloted the team from 1951-63 and took the Seahawks to a pair of NJCAA National Tournaments in 1962 and 1963. His 1963 club finished sixth in the NJCAA tourney in Hutchinson, Kansas.
While a highly respected coach, Brooks was also recognized as a keen administrator. He oversaw Wilmington College’s entry into the NAIA in 1963 and laid the groundwork for the school’s rise to the NCAA Division I ranks in 1976-77. One of his biggest accomplishments came on June 6, 1985, when UNCW joined six members of the ECAC South to form the Colonial Athletic Association, the league the school continues to compete in today.
Always working behind the scenes, Brooks spearheaded the development of the majority of the school’s athletic facilities. He worked hand-in-hand with many community members in the construction of Trask Coliseum, the opening of the Harold Greene Track and Field Complex, the erection of the department’s administrative offices, the William P. Nixon, Jr., Annex, and his namesake, the Brooks Field baseball stadium.
Brooks leaves a remarkable legacy. He received numerous local, state, regional and national awards. He received the Will Wynne Award for his contributions to baseball in North Carolina in 1982 and was elected to three elite groups – the National Junior College Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame (1990), North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame (1993) and the UNCW Athletic Hall of Fame (1998).
On May 11, 1990, the CAA’s athletic directors announced that the league’s regular season MVP award would be named in Brooks’ honor.
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