By Lauri Collins
MADISON – The St. Joseph High School webpage for the baseball team reads, “Family.” Twenty guys and their families who are at the ballpark together for four months, day-in and day-out, weekends included. Parents run the concession stands, plan team snacks; the boys practice, play, practice, then play again. Everyone cheers.
The family atmosphere at DM Howie Field was stronger than ever this spring because of a parliament of Rooks who practically lived at the field. Not blackbirds, but the descendants of Jack and Bettie Rooks, whose children attended St. Joe in the 1980s. St. Joe Senior Will Butts, son of Helen Rooks Butts (1983); Russell Patterson, son of Frances Rooks Patterson (1985); and Charlie Rooks, son of Joe Rooks (1980), all played together on the baseball team. The chemistry among the three was as fun to watch as the adult family members in the stands.
Russell, who just graduated, transferred in as a junior from Texas, and played second base. He was quick and agile, tall and lean. His cousin Charlie who will be a senior this fall, pitches and plays shortstop and is new to St. Joe this year. He reads the ball well and knows Russell’s style. You can watch the mutual respect between them.
Will Butts, who almost passed on playing his senior year, stuck with it because of his cousins. “I didn’t want to miss out being on the team with both of them. We all get along really well off the field, so I knew it would be special on the team with them,” he said. Will has pitched, played in the outfield, and done some pinch running. “Will has more heart than most athletes. He is happy to be on the team and participate in whatever way he can help,” Coach Gerrard McCall said.
McCall noticed the family ties among the boys. “Their small family of three on the team helped our baseball team as a whole to understand what family should look like. They were united, strong and there for each other all the time,” he explained.
The family force is not just on the field and in the dugout. Will’s dad, Larry, is the voice of the Bruins at home games. He has been in the press box calling games since 2009 when their older son Jack played. Their mom Helen was the team mom, doing the work of three volunteers. Helen stocked the concession stand, scheduled the workers, organized meals, cleaned the bathrooms; and, much like her son Will, did anything the team needs her to do.
Helen was quick to recruit sister Frances and her husband Greg when they moved back to Mississippi two years ago. Frances helped with concessions, and the former Bruin cheerleader could be heard cheering for the entire team. Greg and Joe joined the cooking squad and help flip burgers and fry fish before home games.
Joe and his wife Lisa say the atmosphere at St. Joe is just what Charlie needed, and having so much family around is even better. Joe played football and baseball during his time at St. Joe.
And there are more Rooks family members to cheer for the three on the baseball team. Tim Rooks, the youngest of the family, and his wife Kim have three boys at St. Joe. Though not on the field for the Bruins this year, Sam, Max and Luke are there to cheer on the cousins.
Since Russell and Will both graduated last month, this year was the only one that the three had together. Special to them, their families and to the team. The Bruin team had a stellar year, finishing 27-7 for the season, leaving a feeling of family for those left to carry on the Bruin tradition.
(Lauri Collins is director of advancement at St. Joseph Catholic School in Madison.)