by Lee Noles
MONROE – It’s been nearly 15 years since Kasey Brooks put on a uniform for the Piedmont High girls’ basketball team, but one thing that hasn’t changed for her is the memory of the rivalries the Panthers had with other schools in Union County.
Brooks talked about the nearly 60-year old gym at Piedmont being packed weekly to watch the Panthers take on Weddington and Sun Valley in the South Piedmont Conference. But one team more than the others made an impression on Brooks, who finished her high school career in 2004, scoring more than 1,000 points and being named all-conference. Parkwood High was the dominant program in the league, winning several conference titles when Brooks was at Piedmont and regularly making deep runs into the state playoffs.
There was also one player who stood out to Brooks. Alison McAdams was a sharp-shooting guard for the Rebels who played with unbridled energy. When there was a loose ball, McAdams was going for it. If there was a defensive stop, McAdams also seemed to be there to make it. On one hand, it drove Brooks up the wall how McAdams could be all over the court making plays; on the other, she developed an immense amount of respect for her never quit attitude.
Cut to this season. In April, Brooks was named Piedmont’s new head coach, replacing Phil Apple, who stepped down after 13 seasons with the Panthers, and when principal Jonathan Tyson asked if she had an assistant in mind, Brooks thought of one person.
“I knew immediately,” Brooks said. “I thought of Alison, gave her a call and crossed my fingers that she would say yes.”
Luckily for Brooks, the feeling was mutual. McAdams, who now goes by Alison Belk, was an assistant at Parkwood for two years before taking time off to give birth to her son in 2008. She stayed around basketball, even officiating high school games for a few years. But when Brooks came to ask her to join her staff, she jumped back in without hesitating.
“It wasn’t too hard,” said Belk, whose husband Jamie Belk is the head wrestling coach and assistant football coach at Piedmont. “It’s always going to be there. You know coaching. If you enjoy at least, it will be there. And I certainly do.”
But rivalries sometimes can die hard. Belk said even though she had been coming to Piedmont sporting events for 10 years, she still rooted for the Rebels when they faced the Panthers. Even when talking with Brooks at Piedmont’s practice, Belk was quick to point out that Parkwood was 7-0 against Brooks when they played against each other.
“We pretty much trash talk every day.” Brooks said. “We just play around, and when I look back to when we played, I never thought we would be coaching together because we were rivals, but we are having a good time.”
The two also know when to make a point to their team. Take for example a game the Panthers had against Cuthbertson in early December. Brooks said the Panthers missed 20 free throws in the 57-42 loss to the Cavaliers, which dropped Piedmont to 6-2 overall and 1-2 in the Southern Carolina Conference. So, when the players came to the next practice, there was Belk, shooting free throws as they walked into the gym. She made 27 of the 30 she attempted.
“It was a free throw,” said Belk beleaguered. “They should be automatic. “You should look at it like this, ‘They fouled me, so I am going to get my team two points.’ Not. ‘Oh no, they fouled me, I may miss these two points.’ It’s a mindset.”
The Panthers have enjoyed the good-natured ripping that Belk and Brooks give each other. At first, however, some players were a little intimidated knowing that Brooks was going to be their new head coach. After graduating from Piedmont, Brooks, who was Kasey Gillis in high school, played at Queens University in Charlotte before transferring to Wingate after her freshman season. She went on to lead the Bulldogs to the elite eight as a senior.
There is a plaque and a picture from Brooks’ playing days with the Panthers in the trophy case heading down the hallway to Piedmont’s new gymnasium.
“It was intimidating,” said Piedmont guard Caroline Tripp, who’s a four-year starter. “Also, having a new coach for my senior year, and she’s tough, but a fun tough, and knowing how good she was makes us want to play that much better.”
The challenge at the start of the new year won’t be so much on Brooks but on Belk. After road games against Central Cabarrus and then a home contest with Pinecrest, the Panthers make a return to league play on Jan. 2.
“Parkwood,” Belk said. “I hope we beat them by 30.”