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If Brisco-Hooks is slightly prima donna-ish and admittedly impatient with training, Kersee, 31, could pass for a drill sergeant. He is also a licensed Baptist minister. An associate at St. Luke's Baptist Church in Long Beach, Kersee considers the athletes he coaches to be his real congregation. "In a sense they are my ministry," he says.
And he leaves no question as to who is in charge. After a recent interview in which Brisco-Hooks said she would never run the 800 and that her coach would not ask her to because "Bobby would get his feelings hurt," Brisco-Hooks found herself entered in a new event at a small meet at Cal State Poly-Pomona: the 800.
"And I'm supposed to call Track & Field News," Brisco-Hooks said, "and tell them that I do run the 800 when Bobby tells me to."
So impressed was Alvin with Kersee's handling of Valerie that he has turned to him for training in an attempt at an athletic comeback of his own. He was a wide receiver for the Eagles in 1981, but he injured a knee in 1982 and was released. He was picked up, then cut by the USFL's Los Angeles Express in 1983, and he failed the Buffalo Bills' physical just before the Olympics. Now, Hooks is following much the same running and weight training program his wife does, and hoping for an invitation to some NFL team's training camp in July.
Hooks met Valerie at Cal State-Northridge in 1979, and they were married 2½ years later when he was with the Eagles. When little Alvin came along, it appeared that Brisco-Hooks would be running a household, not world class track. "I know now that I'd go crazy if I had to stay home as a housewife," she says. "That's not me. I feel I'm a good mother and a good wife. I just don't think you have to stay at home to be those things. Alvin's very special to understand me the way he does."
"Being an athlete myself, I knew what it was like to have goals and to have obstacles in front of them," says Hooks. "What I told Valerie was, 'Don't worry. Do what you have to do. I'm behind you 100 percent, and I'll do what has to be done to make it easier on you.' "
Nor should one forget the upbringing given Valerie by Arguster and Guitherea Brisco. The sixth of 10 children, she was born in Greenwood, Miss. The family moved to Los Angeles when she was five. In 1974 Valerie's brother Robert, 18, was killed by a stray bullet while running on the Locke High School track near Watts. Valerie was particularly close to Robert, who had urged her to compete in track, and she admits that for motivation she draws from her deep well of feeling for him. Her family was devastated by Robert's death, yet Arguster Brisco speaks with sadness when he mentions the fact that the youth accused of the shooting was later killed in unrelated violence.
"That boy's death really disturbed me," Brisco says. "No matter what he did, I was hurt when I learned he had been killed. The Lord's commandment is very clear: Thou shalt not kill."
"That's Daddy," says Brisco-Hooks. "I know my talent is God-given and all, but I'm not religious like he is and certainly nothing like Bobby. I mean, I like to go to discos with my girlfriends too much."
"Valerie's still the same ol' girl I met and fell in love with," Hooks said as he set off for the center of the UCLA infield to get his wife a new pair of running spikes from a batch that had just been delivered.