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Kindred

By the time you pass mile marker 60 on life's highway, you have attended a good many funerals. They are emotional, challenging.

That was true Monday at Normal's Eastview Christian Church. Yet, Kevin Brown's funeral was atypical in a significant way. It was more proper sendoff than sad farewell, a wonderful anomaly on an inherently sad day.

There is no scoreboard in Eastview's sanctuary, but Brown, the former Central Catholic and Washington basketball coach so driven to win, won again. His wife, Jodi, the gold standard of supportive coach's wives, made sure of it.

She mapped out a service that through video, song, God's word and A-plus eulogies shined light on every aspect of who her husband was. It lasted nearly two hours and you didn't want it to end.

Maybe you've attended funerals with that kind of staying power. This was my first.

Brown, 50, died a week ago of brain cancer, fighting the disease with all he had. That's how he approached everything. If you saw him coach one game — 30 seconds of one game — you knew that.

You knew he challenged players from opening tip to final buzzer, from the star of the team to the end of the bench. He drove them and demanded their best, regardless the score.

You imagined it was the same in practice. Monday confirmed that.

Monday also told us that beneath the fire and furor was a man quick to tell players how much he cared about them.

Eric Schermerhorn, Brown's assistant at Washington the past 14 years, reported being with Brown often when the head coach would call a player at night following a rough game or a difficult practice and tell him he loved him, that he sought the best for him, that he was there for him.

Things like that don't grab headlines, but they win hearts and, ultimately, win games.

Brown won enough to be inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. His intense style was not for everyone and there was a push in May 2017 to have him fired.

He kept his job and this past season, while battling cancer, fought his way back onto the court when practice began. 

Chris Hawkins wasn't surprised. Hawkins grew up with Brown in Lexington and they played every sport imaginable. 

My first memory of them is as teammates on the Lexington High School infield, with Brown, a lefty, at first base. They were as intense as their coaches, Ed Heineman and Ed Moore ... a herculean feat.

Now Normal West's Hall of Fame baseball coach, Hawkins hit a home run with his eulogy Monday. It was straight from his heart to yours. As he hugged Jodi Brown afterward, you sensed Kevin Brown was in on the embrace.

Jeff Kasher spoke of his friend and former colleague as well. Kasher was Central Catholic's assistant coach under Brown from 1997 to 2002. The final season saw the Saints start 1-9 and wind up in the Class A Elite Eight.

Monday's sendoff triggered memories of one in March 2002 at Central Catholic's aging former home ... a noon lunch before the team boarded a small bus for Peoria.

They stopped along the way for a walk-through practice at Eureka College, Brown's alma mater. Then it was off to Carver Arena, where Central lost in the quarterfinals in overtime to eventual champion Pleasant Plains.

Brown told the Saints afterward how proud he was of them, saying, "Everybody in here is going to be successful because of what you just accomplished. Everything you encounter in life, you’re going to have success at. That’s what high school sports are all about.”  

Monday's service went overtime as well. Like that loss in Peoria, it was OK. The Saints were winners.

On Monday, so was their coach.

Death doesn't change that.   

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Contact Randy Kindred at (309) 820-3402. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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