PEORIA — Washington Community High School boys basketball coach Kevin Brown died Tuesday night at home.
Brown, 50, had been battling brain cancer. Washington athletics director Herb Knoblauch confirmed Brown passed away at 9:56 p.m.
Brown was in his 15th season with the Panthers. He returned to coaching in November, less than two months after having surgery to remove a brain tumor.
He underwent six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, then a regimen of chemo pills.
"But at the same time, as I told the kids about a week ago, you think because of what I’ve been through I don’t care about winning?" Brown said in a Journal Star story after his return to coaching. "If you’ve ever been around cancer, you care about winning.”
Brown began a leave of absence Feb. 4 to continue his health battle.
His longtime assistant coach, Eric Schermerhorn, took over the rest of the season.
"We lost an incredible man and leader last night," Schermerhorn said via email to the Journal Star. "I personally lost one of my closest friends, and one of the biggest influences in my life. He was the master of taking high school kids and four years later help turn them in to incredible young men.
"Everyone sees what coach does on the floor, which was absolutely remarkable. What he did off the floor for the boys was even more beautiful."
Brown's health battle was chronicled by his wife, Jodi, on a social media site over the last few months.
In late May, the couple returned from a long hospital stay to their home in Washington and welcomed visits from coaches and players.
Jodi Brown wrote in a June 6 entry on the Caring Bridge website:
"We have been home for two weeks and hanging in there. It has been such a blessing to be closer to friends and family.
"I can't even begin to explain how much the kind gestures mean to our family. For starters ... the number of former players that have visited, seeing the future Dr. Ben Ryan (former Panther) spring into action when needed during his visit with Coach (Ben, you are going to make a difference in so many lives), weekly visits from Coach Darnall (Kevin's college coach), time spent with former and current mid-Illini coaches and one of our family favorites, Coach Neil Alexander, as well as quality time with Kevin's life-long friends.
" ... Kevin was so emotionally moved by a packet of letters from former Morton players, put together by (former Morton coach) Jarrett Brown. Thank you guys ... these words meant so much to Kevin and have been a joy for his dad, brother, as well as all of our family and friends to read. Well done!
"As always, I must say we couldn't get through every day without our family and friends. You have no idea how much you mean to us!! ...
"Kevin continues to fight like crazy ... and I am still in awe of his strength!! I continue to pray that God will give us a miracle!!"
Former Washington player Mason McCoy, now in the Baltimore Orioles farm system, played for Brown.
"I was just happy to have the chance to tell him how much he changed my life," McCoy said via phone Wednesday morning. "I needed to get those words said to him. I always tell people how much he meant to me. He's gone way too soon, but I believe he's in a better place now.
Said ICC baseball recruiting coordinator Ben Diggle: "I was always amazed by how Kevin inspired kids to wring the most out of their talent. One of my fondest memories of him is during the 2007 baseball season.
"Washington played Limestone at Dozer (Park) with the Mid-Illini (Conference) title on the line in front of a pretty loud and rowdy crowd. After Washington grabbed the lead late, Kevin stopped on the third-base line as he walked back to the dugout and his ace Allen Sepich took the mound.
"And you saw him look at Allen, tap his right index and middle fingers against his chest and then, above the roar of the crowd, you heard that unmistakable voice booming "I need you to feel it right now!" The Panthers would go on to win that game and finish 3rd at the Class AA state finals.
"Twelve years later it's still burned into my memory. He was, without a doubt, one of the best coaches I've ever known because he could do things like that."
Social media was rolling on Wednesday morning.
Wrote former Washington player Dyricus Edwards on Facebook: "Some people are real life super heroes and I lost one of mine ... taught me sooo much not just in basketball but in life. ... without him I don’t go to college I don’t get to see the world like have ... I’m not the man that I am ... what made you a super hero is because you saved me ... you saw things in me that I didn’t know existed like you had X-Ray vision for my potential."
On Twitter @WCHSTOC had this tribute: "Kevin Brown -- You walked this world with a sword in your hand and your many victories on and off the floor will forever live in the hearts of those who followed you to battle. Thank you for your strong and passionate presence in our lives. We will miss you always!"
Dave Eminian covers the Rivermen and Chiefs for the Journal Star, and writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.
John Komosa can be reached at 686-3214 or email@example.com.