Carol Russo’s description of Brooke Bader as “very focused” fits. Bader had a 20-20 vision of her future as early as junior high and took the steps necessary to achieve it.
“She was an incredible student,” Russo said. “She always knew she wanted to be an eye doctor. Everything she did had to hook into her going to OSU’s College of Optometry. She was very focused.”
Bader is an optometrist in Avon.
The resolution used to achieve that goal was also obvious on the volleyball court, where she starred for Elyria High School and Bucknell University. She was an outstanding hitter, but her well-rounded game made her special.
Bader will be inducted into the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday night, along with Ken Fenik, Adam Larrick, Briant McLaughlin, Jan Sito and the 1972-73 Elyria and Elyria Catholic boys basketball teams.
The late Cooper Hudnutt will also be honored with the Distinguished Service Award.
Bader is entering the Hall for the second straight year. The 1996 Elyria volleyball team was inducted last May for its state runner-up finish.
“Getting in with the team last year was a pretty special experience,” she said.
This time, Bader stands alone. And she’s not comfortable with all eyes focused on her.
“I’m so nervous about making the speech,” she said. “I’m not good about talking about myself. As a team, we had so many good players, any day anyone could shine.
“But I know I definitely wouldn’t be who I was without Coach Russo and having her confidence in the players and having them build that in themselves.”
Russo, also a Hall of Famer after a long career with the Pioneers, could’ve predicted that response.
“Brooke was very unselfish,” Russo said. “She always gave credit to the team.
“I’m thrilled for Brooke. It’s a wonderful achievement for her. She was such an important member of the 1996 state runner-up team. She had a tremendous career at Bucknell.
“Brooke is just class all the way. She had all the brains, athletic skills and personality.”
Bader deserves some time in the spotlight. She was first-team All-Ohio in 1996 as a senior and was twice first-team all-district, All-Erie Shore Conference and All-Lorain County as an outside hitter.
“One thing that really set Brooke apart was that she never left the floor,” Russo said. “For a 5-11 girl to play defense and left back defense is a big deal.
“When you’re an awesome attacker, usually you can pick on ’em defensively. I would sit there and think, ‘Please, do go after her. That’d be just wonderful.’”
Bader continued to do it all for Bucknell, where she was a four-year letterwinner and an All-Patriot League selection.
“A lot of players have very specific positions,” Bader said. “It was great to be able to play all the way around.”
The Pioneers went to the state Final Four twice in Bader’s three-year varsity career, including losing to Cincinnati Seton in the 1996 championship to end a 28-game winning streak. They went 74-8 with three Erie Shore Conference championships and three district titles.
“What stands out is the excitement of going to the state tournaments twice and just all the friendships I made,” Bader said. “Lifelong friends. And just having Coach Russo as coach. She made the experience very memorable. We wouldn’t have done that without her.”
Bader attended games coached by Russo in later stops at Elyria Catholic and Avon and they continue to see each other on a regular basis.
“She’s my optometrist. I go to Brookey for my eyes,” Russo said. “I have a connection with Brooke.”
The 1996 team was special to Russo for numerous reasons. Besides being smart, driven and successful, it was the first after Elyria West closed. Russo sought to forget backgrounds and unify the players.
“Brooke’s quiet demeanor, easy smile, inclusive personality, making sure everyone’s included, helped make that happen,” Russo said.
By that time, Bader’s sights were clearly set on a future as an optometrist. Not the most common dream of a teenage girl.
“In junior high I got contracts, and I really knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.
“For as long as I can remember that’s what she talked about being,” Hall of Famer and former teammate Erinn Kingman Dobos said. “She knew that was what she wanted to do. I don’t know anybody else who wanted to be that. It worked out for her.”
Bader said her dad planted the seed because his father had mentioned it to him. Dr. Roy Ebihara was Bader’s optometrist and she credits him for helping to foster the vision.
“I really do love it,” she said. “It was a good choice.”
The Hall made a good choice with Bader, whose athletic prowess wasn’t limited to the volleyball court. She was Elyria’s leading rebounder on the basketball team that won the Erie Shore, and played first base on the softball team. She played all three sports at Bucknell before focusing on volleyball.
Bader is married to Jeff Sittinger, her high school sweetheart, and they have two daughters. Bexley is 11 weeks old and Brynn 21 months.
Bader is excited about the connections she has with her Hall of Fame class. Fenik was her softball coach, she played softball with Sito’s niece and is friends with Larrick.
“It’s a neat group,” she said. “It’s definitely a surprise I did get in.”
The optometrist should’ve seen it coming.
- WHAT: 42nd Elyria Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet
- WHEN: Saturday
- WHERE: Spitzer Center, Lorain County Community College
- TICKETS: Sold out