It’s been about a month since the DuPont Manual High School girls’ track and field team captured the Class 3-A state title in Lexington.
For Manual coach Zach Brooks, this was the latest chapter in a track and field career that began when he was a junior at North Hardin High School. Winning a state championship in any sport is never an easy task and only so many coaches can accomplish the feat. Now, around seven years into his career as a head coach, of which the last four have been at Manual, Brooks has his first one under his belt.
“It was a range of emotions. I think my first was I was proud to accomplish a goal that I set out to accomplish, proud of my team,” he said. “It was a just a joyful feeling. There were a lot of different feelings that I felt.”
The Lady Crimsons won the title in dramatic fashion, overtaking West Jessamine in the team standings late in the day after the 4x400-meter relay team of Abigail Bohn, Sophia Richter, Jessica Secor and Ruby Nwosu took first place in the meet’s final event in 4:02.05. The win gave Manual another 10 points, enough to push the program into the top spot with 58 points. West Jessamine had 53 points.
“It was more so, even before they were running, about the conversations my other coaches and I had to have with the girls. We told them to give it all you got, leave it all on the track, don’t hold back, don’t get off the track regretting anything. This is bigger than you. This is about the team,” Brooks said. “We had an opportunity to do something that the school hasn’t done (a girls’ track and field state title) since 1975, so we had those conversations about trust the process. They worked so hard for this and I kept telling them you worked for this, you deserve to be here. Go get what’s yours. They did it themselves. Once they got on that track, I can tell you I was nervous, but deep down inside I feel like I knew we had it under control.”
Long before he would be hoisting the 2021 trophy with his Lady Crimson athletes, Brooks was a student at North Hardin who primarily had been focusing on football during his early years when it came to Trojan athletics.
It wasn’t until his junior year that he fully committed to the track and field season.
“I would come out and I would quit freshman and sophomore year,” Brooks said. “My junior year I really stuck with it.”
Despite the later start to his track and field career, it didn’t take long for Brooks to show his prowess in events such as the 300-meter hurdles, becoming one of the state’s top competitors in this event over his two years at North Hardin. He also competed in events such as the 4x200-meter relay and, to a lesser extent, the 4x400-meter relay.
Brooks’s years at the high school level were spent under the tutelage of now-retired North Hardin coach James Webb, who recognized Brooks’s athleticism and demeanor early on.
“He was a hard worker. He wasn’t blessed with natural talent, but he was very dedicated. He comes from a family of athletes,” Webb said. “He was the baby though, so he was able to watch his siblings come up and he just wanted to make his mark at North Hardin as well.”
After graduating from North Hardin in 2009, Brooks went on to run track at Kentucky State University in Frankfort, where he primarily ran the 400-meter hurdles and the 4x400-meter relay. He also ran cross country.
It wasn’t long after Brooks’s graduation from Kentucky State that he would get his first head coaching opportunity at St. Francis School in Louisville, where he would lead the team for three years before the opportunity to take over the Manual program presented itself.
Through the college meets and the last few years of the beginning of his coaching career, one thing that’s remained constant is Webb has always been in his corner.
“The crazy thing is I still use Coach Webb to this day for the knowledge that he has,” Brooks said. “Just starting so young, Coach Webb kind of taught and influenced me, and every other athlete, that track wasn’t about track. Track is more so about life goals and being able to start something, complete it and finish it at 100 percent. Giving it your all. He just kept talking values when it came to track, so I use those same values almost to a T when I’m coaching my athletes.”
Webb has seen these values continue to emulate in Brooks as his career has begun to take off in the world of coaching. Even when he was starting at St. Francis, Webb knew that Brooks had what it took to succeed in this profession.
“He’s very fun-loving. He has an infectious smile. ... He’s someone who kept everybody light-hearted,” Webb said. “I remember the athletic director at Manual High School called me about him and said ‘(Brooks) wants to be the head coach, he’s interested, tell me about him.’ I said he’s ready, he’s paid his dues and he loves the sport.”
This mentorship that began as one between an athlete and a coach and then to one between two coaches continued to be present at the state meet back in June. Webb, who was working the meet, was there when Brooks and the Lady Crimsons became state champions.
“Coach Webb was the first person I hugged when my girls came across the finish line in first place,” Brooks said. “We did the happiest dance you could ever imagine and it was just a great feeling, No. 1 because he’s one of my biggest mentors, one of the people I look up to the most. To share that experience with him was phenomenal.”
With one state title already down, Webb thinks this is only the start of what could be a long and successful career for Brooks.
“He’s at a great school for track and field for one thing, because they’re very intelligent students that go to Manual; it’s a high academic school. They have a great tradition. They’ve always been a solid program, men’s and women’s,” Webb said. “I wish him so much more. … For him to have won a state championship already, most coaches never win it ever and they work their tails off. He’s got one down and we have so many other coaches out there from the North Hardin coaching tree that are out there trying to do the same thing he’s doing, so we’re just excited.”