Brian Wright loves teaching and coaching so much that he is currently in his 41st year as a coach and his 37th year teaching. His commitment to spending time with and encouraging kids is definitely inspiring.
Wright’s love of sports came to him at an early age. He grew up in Ravenna, Mich., graduating from Ravenna High School where he played football, basketball and baseball. “I loved every sport and playing in all the different seasons,” he says, “but baseball was always my favorite. My senior year we went to state finals, and even though we lost in the championship game, it was great.”
It was also in high school that he first thought about elementary education as a career. “One of my teachers in 11th grade asked if I’d thought about being an elementary teacher,” he relates. “She said she thought I’d make a good one.”
He took her suggestion and had a physical education major and elementary education minor at Grand Valley State University, where he also played baseball for four years until his graduation in 1981 after his student teaching.
“We had a good team, won conference two of the years, and went to regionals in the other two years,” he recalls. “You build tight relationships in college, and my closest friends are still guys on that team.”
In 1981, Wright moved to Shelby and been here ever since. He started out teaching fourth grade for 25 years, and then taught fifth grade for a year, followed by eight years in third grade at Thomas Read Elementary School in Shelby. He says teaching at the various grade levels is similar. The skills, reading, writing, math are the same, but more advanced at the higher level.
These days he is in his fourth year teaching elementary (K-5) physical education.
“I loved my years in the classroom, but it seemed like the time was right to make this change,” Wright says.
He explains that the way physical education is taught these days is based on standards they are required to teach.
“We can incorporate the standards by combining fitness with games and activities. For example, if throwing and catching is a standard to meet, the activity might be throwing tennis balls in a large bucket, hitting a target on the wall, or throwing to a teammate who has to catch it.”
Wright recounts that teaching physical education during Covid has presented some unique challenges. The special teachers, like physical education, music and art, created a weekly calendar of tasks for the kids to do at home. They also had some Zoom classes at the end of the last school year. But Wright notes, “This school year, we never shut down, and the kids wore masks with no problems. We had some exposure at the school, and some kids have had to miss some school, but not too many teachers. Some classes were hit hard for a little bit. But we haven’t missed a beat.”
In addition to teaching at the elementary schools, Wright has also coached various sports, including baseball at the various levels, and he has been coaching the high school baseball team for 39 years. “I’ve also done boys’ junior varsity basketball, girls’ eighth grade basketball, middle school football and girls’ varsity basketball,” he reports.
In addition, as his three children were growing up, he coached recreation department little league softball and baseball, and he is proud to report that he had the privilege of coaching his son, Josh, for four years on the varsity baseball team. Asked what that was like, he confesses, “Josh was with a unique group of kids in his class, and I coached them when they were little and all the way up. It was probably harder on him than on me to have his dad also be his coach.”
Asked about successes his teams have enjoyed, he reports that in 2003, his team won their first 25 games, and then won the conference and districts before losing at regionals. In 2010, his team went the farthest ever, winning the conference and regionals. Though they lost in the quarter-finals to Bath, they enjoyed a 34-6 record that year.
“What I like best about coaching is building relationships,” Wright says. “I still see these kids who are now married and have kids of their own.” He has had players go on to play in junior college and in Division 3 schools, but he says that, for him, “Success in coaching is getting to understand your team’s personality and getting the maximum effort and potential out of the team. The challenge of each year is getting a new team and trying to build them together where they believe in each other. If they play hard and play together and support each other, that’s success!”
In addition to coaching in the Shelby Schools and for its recreational teams, this will be Wright’s seventh summer coaching a summer collegiate baseball team in Muskegon, where top players come from all over the country, as far away as California and Texas, and live with families in Muskegon while competing against summer collegiate teams from Indiana, Ohio, Canada and other places during the months of June and July.
Wright says he has no plans for retirement, noting that he should probably be thinking about that because he’s talked to others who didn’t have a plan and didn’t enjoy the first part of their retirement. However, he notes that he and his wife, Kelly, to whom he will have been married for 38 years in October, just had their first grandchild, so they’re definitely enjoying that experience. Their three children are all still in Michigan, two of them in Shelby, so time with family will be important, and the family gets together as much as they can.
“I don’t see me out looking for another job,” he says. “I can still coach high school baseball after I retire, so I may retire from teaching before I give up coaching.”
In any event, he sees himself staying active. He enjoys biking, especially on the Rail Trail. “Coaching takes so much time,” he reports, “but I like biking in the summer. I set myself a goal of 2,000 miles and biked 2,100 miles in the last year.”
As for his ultimate retirement, Wright jokes, “Maybe when I’m thinking, ‘oh no I’ve got to go to school today.’ For now, I wake up and can’t wait to get to school. I won’t retire until it’s not good anymore. I always wanted to be a teacher-coach, and I love what I do. I’ve loved all the years of teaching and living in this community.”