J. Thomas McNamara
Once again, the Mount Zion Braves athletic community has been rocked by another tragic death.
Brad Stuart, who played basketball and baseball for Mount Zion and coached the varsity basketball Braves four years, was killed in a two-vehicle auto accident on Interstate 72 in Pike County at 3:40 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, according to Illinois State Police. The other driver, a 58-year-old Griggsville woman, also died in the accident.
Authorities said she was driving westbound in the eastbound lanes. The highway was closed for more than three hours to investigate the accident.
Jeff Sams, who assisted Brad for years and the junior high basketball state championship team and his two sons, Jake and Michael, wrote, “as I have tried to understand this tragic news of our good friend Brad Stuart I am reminded of all the precious times we shared. Regardless if it was in the middle of summer when we were doing all kinds of camps throughout the Midwest or in the heart of any season, Brad was a devoted coach. Brad was special for our family as he coached both my sons and I had the privilege to coach beside him for his entire varsity coaching career as a MTZ Coach.
“My memories of Brad as a coach was just how good he was as a teacher of the game. The proper footwork for the post position of which he was never a post player. His teaching of good ball handling and all the fundamentals of the game. He often told me he liked practices more than the games because he loved to teach. I questioned that statement as he was a tremendous competitor as well. My sons could speak of their memories better than I can speak for them, but what I valued as a parent was I knew he truly loved and cared for his players.
“That sounds cliché but it is the truth.
“Brad was bullheaded and loved to debate and yet it was always a good fun debate not a negative thing. I loved that Brad was a good man and how he loved his wife Lynette. This is not negative about him but he was pretty simple in that he was not interested in flashy or complex things.
“He believed student athletes should give back to the community so he always looked for ways what our team could do outside of basketball with service to the community. An example would be the leaf raking in the fall for primarily senior citizens in the city of Decatur. “I know our boys were not crazy about it at the time, but it was his idea to serve those that needed help and it was a good team builder to have players work together outside of the gym.
“I worked with him when we had very good players and he worked them pretty hard. We both challenged each other and fed off the ideas which told me how secure he was as a coach and a man in his beliefs of what he was doing as the head coach of good players.
Most importantly I know Brad was a man of Faith and we would meet yearly at the FCA banquets in Springfield. Even though we both were out of coaching we thought of ourselves as coaches and loved the idea of helping athletes with their sports and their faith.
“I am praying for the girls and Lynette and I hope they understand we are all hurting for them with this tragic loss. “
Retired Stephen Decatur/Eisenhower basketball head coach and Thanksgiving tournament coordinator Mel Roustio offered his reflections on Stuart’s passing, “During my two year basketball coaching stint at Stephen Decatur and one season with Eisenhower, I had the opportunity to compete against Brad Stuart’s Mt. Zion teams. Brad’s squads were well prepared and demonstrated excellent teamwork and competitiveness. In conversations with Coach Stuart one got the strong indication of his respect for opponents, the game and coaching profession.”
Stuart played Mount Zion baseball for Ed Neighbors and basketball for Neighbors and Don Steers. He also plated wide receiver in football.
“He was well-liked by all,” said Neighbors about his former athlete, adding, “He knew what he had to do on the fields, on the courts.”
Neighbors cited this example of how his former players liked him, reminding that his former guard, Matt McCollom, joined him in the pharmaceutical field with Medtronics and had been together 12 or 13 years.
In Mount Zion baseball, he pitched, he played shortstop, he played third, he was versatile, extremely versatile. “He knew how the game should be played and went out and did it.”
Later, he played college baseball with Mike Mose at Lake Land College in Mattoon.
Mose played first base and Stuart shortstop for Lake Land that finished sixth in the junior college World Series. Mose kept the Lake Land team to play in Decatur’s Dean Phipps League where “we kicked their butts.”
When Stuart was 15 years old, Gene Howell of the American Legion baseball program at the time, asked Mose and Avon Edgar if they wanted to take this 15-year-old “under their wings” because he could play which they did and they were together ever since in varying capacities.
Stuart coached the Braves to their supersectional berth in 1998. That team was recognized at the November 2018 Team Soy Capital Decatur Thanksgiving tournament. Their picture from that evening illustrates this story on Stuart’s tragic death.
I will have more on Stuart’s tragic passing in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune with additional comments from those who played and knew him well. Brad always had time to answer my questions.