Bob Bronston, Springfield and Miami U. legend and trailblazer, dies at 88

A member of Springfield’s 1950 state championship basketball team, Bronston made the Miami Hall of Fame as a football player

Bob Bronston was a man of firsts.

• First black captain of the Miami University football team.

• First black vice president of his class as a junior at Miami.

• First black teacher at Springfield High School.

• First black administrator at North High School.

When Bronston, 88, died on Aug. 26, his family and friends celebrated a legendary life, lived from beginning to end in Springfield.

“My dad was never a boastful person,” his daughter Tracy Bronston said. “He never said, ‘Oh, I was the first at that.’ That just goes back to his character and his values and his morals that he got my from grandparents. He was very thankful for the opportunities that he was afforded even in the midst of what was going on back then.”

At Bronston’s celebration of life on Sept. 3, Tracy heard from a number of his former students and players and fellow coaches who had fond memories of her dad. One told a story from the 1960s of Bronston giving him permission to miss school — even though he had perfect attendance — to attend his grandma’s funeral.

Tracy also received comments from Randy Ayers, another Miami great who’s now an assistant coach with the Phoenix Suns, and his brother Tim Ayers, the former Springfield mayor. Both attended North High School when Bronston was there.

“Bob Bronston and Wayne Embry made it possible for a Springfield kid like me to make my way to Miami of Ohio and then on to Ohio State as head coach and finally coaching in the NBA,” Randy said.

Tim relayed a congratulatory note Bronston sent him when he became mayor.

“Congratulations on becoming mayor,” Bronston wrote. “Now stay out of the dean’s office.”

“Thank you!” Tim replied. “Without your hard-learned lessons in the dean’s office, I never would have become mayor.”

ExploreRELATED: Reliving the glory days of 1950 when Springfield won the state basketball title

Bronston was a junior at Springfield High School in 1950 when the Wildcats beat Akron South 53-48 to win the Class A state championship at Fairgrounds Coliseum in Columbus. It was Springfield’s first state championship since 1925 and remains its last state championship in boys basketball.

The team reunited many times over the years. At the 30th reunion in 1980, Bronston spoke to the Springfield News-Sun about the lessons gained in 1950. He said, “One thing I learned was to be able to count on the other guy, your teammates, to win and lose graciously and not let defeat get us down. I applied that in everyday life and living.”

Bronston was one of eight players to attend a ceremony honoring the team in 2008 at South High School.

“Just like the team, we were close after we left,” Bronston said then. “Everybody went on their way, but all the guys were pretty much successful with whatever they did. At first we kept in touch through Elwood Pitzer, our coach. Everybody respected one another so we continued to keep in touch.”

After the championship in 1950, Pitzer said, “You know, it’s easy to say that some boys are the finest you have ever coached, when they win. But I tell you that this team is the finest bunch of boys I’ve ever worked with since I started coaching back in 1938.”

Credit: Courtesy of Dick Pitzer

Credit: Courtesy of Dick Pitzer

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

Bronston, the son of Esmond “Pete” Bronston and Naomi (Huffman) Bronston, also excelled in football as a fullback. When he graduated from Springfield in 1951, that’s the sport he played at Miami University.

The first-year coach in 1951, Bronston’s freshman season, was Ara Parseghian, who later would lead Notre Dame to national championships in 1966 and 1973. Bronston lettered in all four years of his college career, playing fullback and linebacker for teams that compiled a record of 30-6-1. Miami won the Mid-American Conference championship in his junior season.

Bronston was voted a team captain as a senior in 1954.

“It was more unanimous than in any previous year since I’ve been here,” Parseghian said then.

Bronston was named to the All-MAC second team as a senior. He rushed 249 times for 1,161 yards in his career.

Bronston also met his wife Beverly at Miami. They were married for 66 years. Beverly was a life-long educator in the Springfield City schools and taught at Fulton Elementary for 30 years.

“They became a Miami merger, which is what they call two individuals who meet at Miami and get married,” Tracy said. “It was a long, happy, supportive, loving marriage.”

Bronston once told a neighbor Parseghian tried to get him to come to Notre Dame as an assistant coach. He would have had to uproot his family from Springfield, however, and turned it down.

“As much as Bob loved football, he loved his family much more,” the neighbor told Tracy.

Miami inducted Bronston into its hall of fame in 1977. By that point, Bronston had made more history as a teacher after any pro football dreams were derailed by injury. He was 21 years old when Springfield hired him in 1955 as a a teacher and coach of the sophomore football team. He would teach science and health at Springfield High School and South High School and later coach golf and serve as a guidance counselor.

Michael Carter and Darnell Carter, Springfield natives and brothers with long coaching careers of their own, nominated Bronston for the Springfield City Schools Alumni of Distinction Award in 2017.

“Make no mistake, Mr. Bronston was the most qualified coach in the history of Springfield never to have the opportunity to lead a major sport,” Michael Carter said at the service for Bronston, “with all due respect to black coaches such as Earl Taylor, Jim Copeland, Larry Ham, Isaiah Carson, Mo Douglass, myself and others, our resumes pale in comparison. I don’t know what he told his family, but I never saw him complain. I only saw him walk with his head held high, being an example to all of us each and every day. When I became a coach at South and then then later at Trotwood-Madison. He would tell me how proud he was. Imagine that. There was no bitterness, only joy for the opportunities we were afforded — opportunities he never had.”

In 1972, North High School hired Bronston as dean of students. He worked at the high school until 1985 and then became a partner and President of MAP Building Services. He also worked as a real estate salesman and insurance agent later in his life.

Bronston was an avid golfer who served as City Golf Advisory Committee chairman. He also served on the Springfield Metropolitan Housing Authority Board of Directors and worked with the United Way.

According to his obituary, Bronston is survived by his wife Beverly; two daughters Rhonda (Holbrook) Riles, Jr.; Tracy (Leonard) Bronston; sister Virginia “Crick” Jewell; four grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

“He was a mentor, coach, role model, counselor, teacher, golf and football coach to so many but to me he was just Dad,” Tracy wrote on Facebook in August. “How lucky I was that God allowed me to have all these wonderful years to have such a loving, supportive, caring, devoted, smart, strong man to guide me through this thing called life! I will miss him tremendously but knowing he is at peace now gives me peace! Dad you were the best of the best. The foundation and seeds you have planted will continue to grow in all of us.”

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