Posted Online: Jan. 06, 2013, 6:47 pm

A leader on the court, Ridgewood's Brooks also a standout as a person

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By Terry Duckett,

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Monmouth-Roseville's Emily Lovdahl (2) and Ridgewood's Taylor Brooks (21) go after the ball as it bounces out-of-bounds during the first half Friday Nov 16, 2012.
The holiday season always serves to remind people -- even the most cynical among us -- that there are still folks out there giving of themselves, rather than taking for themselves.

AlWood High School senior Taylor Brooks, a starting guard for the Ridgewood girls' basketball co-op, is a person that firmly belongs in the former category.

While working as an aid to guidance counselor Adrienne Lavin, Brooks became aware of the plight of one of the AlWood 6th-grade students who was having difficulty arriving to school on time. She found out that the boy, his mother and his two siblings not only lived near her in Woodhull, but were dealing with serious financial straits.

"He'd been late so many times,'' said Brooks, "so I asked Ms. Lavin about him, and she told me he'd had a bit of trouble. That's when I introduced myself, and found out they lived across the street from me. My mom (Kelly) also got concerned, introduced herself, and we ended up deciding to help them pay their bills for much of November.''

Once she found out just what was going on -- literally in her own neighborhood -- Brooks was inspired to take action, taking charge of a school-wide fundraising effort that provided the family with donations of food, clothes and a new television so that they could enjoy a merry Christmas themselves. Additionally, she is taking the oldest son to school every day and sharing breakfast with him.

"Ms. Lavin, my dad (Ridgewood girls' coach Bryan Brooks) and myself thought of the idea of having the combination of a canned food drive and a Christmas toy drive, and we were able to put it together in just two days,'' she said. "We had everyone in school involved; for a week, everyone donated food. We ended up raising over 350 canned food items and various other donations -- clothes, a TV and a TV stand.

"I've always done various things like this, little things, but something like this, it's definitely been a more mature thing for me. It took me into a different emotional state. It shocked me; I didn't think something like this was happening across the street from me. It's been a life-changing experience.''

Her father notes how amazing it was for Taylor to get involved to such a degree, particularly with the load she already carries as a three-sport athlete and a student with a 3.9 GPA who has already been accepted to both Michigan State University and the University of Iowa.

"To do something like that, to take that much time, that meant a lot,'' said Bryan Brooks. "I thought it was a great thing to do. In sports, she'll take time with the younger kids, and is always positive, even when the situation isn't the greatest.''

Averaging 6.5 points, four rebounds, three steals and two assists per game for a Ridgewood team that has won four of its last five games to stand at 6-9 (2-3 Lincoln Trail Conference), Brooks has also come to see the separation between sports and real life.

"I have to remind myself that it's just a game,'' she said of basketball. "This makes me think about life in a different perspective. I (play sports) because I love it, but there are so many things out there, so many people struggling. I'm just blessed to get the opportunity to do these things for other people, and for the things that I do have.

"I wish there were so many others I could help, but I've got to do what I can do around here. It makes me feel good how everyone at school got involved, especially on such short notice. It really warms my heart.''