By Mike Carrels
Phoenix News Editor
I’m not sure how many of us consider teachers lifelong friends after we graduate high school. I am fortunate enough to have a few in that category.
Unfortunately, I now have one fewer.
I lost not only a teacher, but a friend with the passing of Bob Branan on Friday.
Because he was a teacher, mentor, high school yearbook and newspaper adviser, and coach to thousands over his decades-long career in education, I am positive I’m not alone.
Bob loved his family, teaching, baseball (especially the Atlanta Braves), and coaching.
His eyes lit up whenever he talked about his son, Michael, or his daughter, Lori. And they got even brighter when talking about his grandchildren.
He was such a huge Braves fan, he went to Philadelphia late this season to watch a pivotal three-game series against the Phillies. I was happy for him, and he even extended an invitation for me to tag along. He was excited to ride the train from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., to visit Lori.
But above all, teaching was his passion. He wanted to share his knowledge — be it of journalism or baseball. And the more you showed a willingness to learn, the more passionate he became.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without Bob.
As a soon-to-be high school senior in the summer of 1992, Bob called me at home and informed me I was to be the sports editor of the Muskogee High School newspaper, The Scout.
Never mind I had not enrolled in his class, had no writing experience, didn’t like writing and didn’t want to be a print journalist.
He said he would teach me. And he said I would learn.
It sounded too hard, I protested. I wanted to cruise my senior year and do as little as possible.
But he insisted. He was stubborn about it. And over the years, I learned he was stubborn about a lot of other things — from fantasy baseball rules to the editing of his copy; from politics to education.
He was stubborn because he was passionate. He was stubborn because he cared.
I always called him coach, because that’s what he was. And while he didn’t coach me on the diamond (I played soccer about 100 pounds ago), he was my first career coach.
He helped me with my college choices twice — once with junior college and again upon juco graduation. He helped me get scholarships to both.
He urged me to apply at the Phoenix as a sports writer in 1996 even though I was just a junior in college. He said he had full confidence I could not only do the job, but excel at it.
He ended up teaching me way more than journalism over the last 18 years, long after I left his classroom. He had years of knowledge and was always willing to share it, whatever the subject.
He was one of the people I talked with before I decided to propose to my wife. He and his wife Sharon were married for more than 40 years, and I wanted to glean some of his knowledge of a successful marriage before I took the plunge.
Before retiring from coaching baseball at Muskogee High School, he spearheaded the building process of the baseball training facility and lockerrooms on campus. It was his last coaching legacy at MHS.
And although he retired from coaching, he of course continued to teach at the school. Continued to teach, help and challenge young minds like mine.
When he retired from coaching, this is what Bob said in a story in the Phoenix:
“I hope I’ve had some positive influence on the kids. I hope I was more than just a coach, that I taught more than just baseball.”
I never did say thank you to Bob. But I have no doubt he knows I appreciated everything he did.
“Hey bubba, don’t sweat it,” is what I’m sure he would say.
Thank a teacher today. Hug a teacher today.
Thank you, Bob, for everything.
Reach Carrels at firstname.lastname@example.org.