Getting named captain of the Lincoln High soccer team meant more than senior Noah Brooks ever could have imagined.
“I think he teared up a little bit when we gave that to him,” Lincoln coach Michael Duff said of the captains’ armbands.
Of course, the bands Duff handed out this year were different than the ones that came before. This soccer season all of Lincoln’s captains, including Noah, received pink armbands as a sign of support for Noah’s mom Robin Brooks, who was diagnosed with breast cancer a few shorts weeks before the season began in February.
“That meant a lot to me because it showed that everybody on the team, the coaches, coach Duff was supporting me through this,” Noah said.
The Golden Bears' center mid wasn’t the only one to get emotional at the sight of the pink bands.
“I didn’t cry in front of him,” Robin said. “But it meant the world.”
According to both his coaches and family members, Noah is about to wrap up something of a breakout year, which has seen him lead Lincoln (14-6-2) in assists (eight) while also ranking third in goals scored (eight) despite missing two games early in the season with a hamstring injury.
“It is a whole different dynamic when he is out there. … (coaches for) Scottsboro, they said they knew when they watched him the game before they were going to have a lot of fits,” Duff said. “And then when he didn’t play, they were like, ‘Thank God he didn’t play in that game.’”
In many ways, this has been Noah’s first real season on the varsity roster. He was a mid-year call-up as a freshman, and then he broke his leg a few games into his sophomore season. Then, of course, there was the abrupt and premature ending to Noah’s season last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This was his first and final chance to really show what he’s got, but Noah often encouraged his mother to skip his games and rest up.
Despite that advice, Noah found his mother watching every single game this season, both home and away, just as she has done since he was 4 years old.
“I look up, and she is there,” Noah said. “And like I know some days she felt horrible, but she stuck through it just to watch me play, and it meant a lot.”
Robin said the side effects of chemo are real. They often left her exhausted, to say the least, especially three to five days days after her last treatment.
“Honestly, just wanting to go to sleep and forget the world,” Robin said. “But I wanted to show my kid that even though you have something like breast cancer, you still move on.”
There were days when Noah longed to do more for his mother. Skipping practice to sit with her during a few of her chemo treatments and cracking jokes to make her smile didn’t always seem like a big deal to him, but to Robin, it meant everything.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better son during this,” Robin said on Tuesday afternoon, her voice breaking off as it filled with emotion.
On Thursday, Lincoln celebrated Noah and his classmates with the usual senior night festivities. Robin had just undergone surgery on her lymph nodes just over 48 hours before, but by this point of the season, there was no chance Robin was going to ruin her attendance record now.
The plan was to have Noah and his father, Jon Brooks, walk out to the far end of the field. There Robin could walk off the sidelines and meet them. Duff even had a chair located nearby in case she needed to sit during the ceremony.
“But she had no part of that,” Jon said. “She walked right across the field. She was like, ‘I’m not missing this for nothing. I’ve been to every game.’ She goes, ‘I’m not going to let this stop me.’”
Ring the bell
The most important victory of the season didn’t end with the blaring of a whistle.
Instead, there was the bell Robin rang out after she finished her final chemo treatment. Then there was the ring of the phone on Thursday when the doctors called to inform Robin that she was now cancer-free.
“There are no words to describe it,” Robin said. “It was the best feeling in the world just to know that you’ve overcome something so big. And you get to ring that bell to say I’m done. It was fantastic.”
Robin still has a year’s supply of medication and at least one radiation treatment left in her future, but the Brooks family has also gained something positive from this experience.
“I do feel like we’re closer because when something like that happens, you always have to talk about it, and we wasn’t really like the talking family,” Noah said. “But now, when there is a problem, we always talk about it. I really think it has made all of our bonds stronger than it has ever been.”
That newfound line of communication isn’t just about serious stuff. Robin said the three of them spent time talking about the game after Lincoln defeated Childersburg 4-0 to wrap up the regular season Monday. In years past, Robin said she would have headed to bed shortly after getting home from a game.
Now the family hopes the future is spent with several postgame conversations as Noah and the Golden Bears head to Leeds on Thursday night at 5:30 for the opening round of the playoffs.
Recent history suggests Noah’s best work in a Lincoln uniform might still be ahead of him.
“I wish I could have had a couple more years with him,” Duff said. “That sucks. … Every game, he brings something else to the table.”
Lincoln’s coach was surprised again last week when Noah showed up at practice a few minutes late. He’d been up since 3 a.m. and hadn’t eaten lunch so he could be with his mon when she came out of surgery, but Noah was still determined not to miss one of the last practices of the season.
“Just the huge commitment,” Duff said. “And people see that. The kids see that. Most kids would have just went home.”