HEBRON — Cerebral palsy denied Clark Drook the chance to play basketball at a competitive level, but it couldn't diminish his love of the game.

"It's fun to watch," the Hebron freshman said.

You'd do well to find someone who watches more local high school basketball than Drook, who has seen 75 varsity games this season, a list that will increase Saturday when the family travels to Huntington North for the semistates.

"They grew up in the gym. It was like a second home," Brenda Drook said of Clark and twin brother Ethan, a Hebron sophomore. "They were in their car seats, listening to buzzers going off. They took on the passion. They were always interested in sports."

Both Brenda and husband Bill have spent their adult lives in coaching. Currently a girls assistant at LaPorte, Bill was the girls coach at LaCrosse. Brenda has been the head girls coach at Morgan and boys coach at Hebron.

"I think it's in our DNA," Ethan said.

The boys, 16, were born three months premature and didn't come home until their actual due date.

"He teases me about being a minute older," Ethan said. "He tells me I should listen to him."

Save for asthma, Ethan came through the early birth without physical limitations. Clark's challenges were much greater, but cerebral palsy doesn't define him, nor does he want different treatment as a result of it.

"We were blessed," Bill Drook said. "All births are miracles, but these guys were special miracles. They complement each other very well, Clark's very aggressive and Ethan's a little more passive."

Clark's issues didn't keep him from playing basketball, teaming up with his brother in youth leagues.

"He's a trash talker," Ethan said. "He's automatic out to the free-throw line. When I'd go to the gym, I'd say, come on, Clark, I need you to go. If he could play, we'd probably be the best twins in the Region."

The boys were in middle school when the family started making basketball games a big part of their schedule, Clark using the John Harrell website as a guide for the best matchups. Thanks to conference and scouting passes, they're able to defray a good portion of the cost.

"He'll go to the predictions and see what was supposed to be a close game," Bill said. "Mine are usually blowouts, his are usually close. We'll get into the week and he's like, what are we doing Saturday night? So and so is playing so and so. Are we going somewhere? I can't tell him no."

One year, they drove all the way to Huntington, only to be turned away when tickets ran out 10 people in front of them. When the schedule allows, they do Saturday day-night doubleheaders.

Often times, when it's a tossup between games, one of the boys goes with one parent to one site and the other two go to the other. That's what they did Saturday when Bill and Clark went to LaPorte, while Brenda and Ethan went to North Judson for the semifinals, then in the evening, Brenda and Ethan went to LaPorte, while Bill and Clark went to Culver.

"He's a pretty good negotiator, the way he picks," Brenda said.

Clark's particularly fond of pressing, fast-paced teams, so he took a liking years back to Bowman Academy — former Eagles coach and the late Marvin Rea welcomed him warmly — and Merrillville. Kentucky is his undisputed favorite college team.

"I like all the NBA guys," Clark said, wearing a Wildcats hoodie and sweats.

While most of the games are high school, Bill was able to get tickets through a Butler friend to attend the Sweet 16 games in Memphis last March.

The last two years, with Ethan playing for Hebron, the schedule has been modified to incorporate Hawks games. Last season, then-coach John Steinhilber insisted Clark join the team as a statistician and Mike Grennes kept him on board this season.

"It means a lot to me. Coach Stein and Grennes could've easily told us they didn't want him to do it," Ethan said. "I think about how bad he wants to play. It gives him a boost of confidence, something to feel good about. It makes me happy to see him happy. Usually, if I have a bad game or bad practice, I'll come home and he'll always say something to make me laugh, to make me think the next practice or game will go well."

The Drooks figure the hoops junkets will continue at least while the boys are in high school. Both aspire to go into sports-related careers, Clark hoping he can someday coach, either at Kentucky or Merrillville.

"Basketball's been good to us," Bill said. "Like 'Shooter' said in "Hoosiers," it's the best game ever invented."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at james.peters@nwi.com


Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.