By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (July 8, 2017) — There’s an old saying about a dog and a fight that applies perfectly to Stephenville business owner and past Honeybee softball coach Wes Bryson.
You can take Bryson out of coaching, but you can’t take the coach out of Bryson.
Mineral Wells ISD has put the title of Coach back in front of his name, selecting Bryson to be its head softball coach.
Also a past head coach at Saginaw and Granbury high schools and even a college conference coach of the year in 2007, Bryson has build a reputation as a rebuilder of fledgling programs. But with his job guiding the Lady Rams, he says, that’s not the case.
“There’s nothing to rebuild there because it’s already been built,” said Bryson. “That’s what I’m most excited about, and I even told the girls this when I first met with the team, is I finally get to coach somewhere that has a sturdy foundation and is in position to win right away.
In fact, the Lady Rams are already winning. And this past spring, they won a lot.
Mineral Wells (21-8-1) had a season similar to Stephenville’s (26-6), even reaching the area round of the Region I -4A playoffs like the Bees. They lost to Vernon and Stephenville lost Brownwood the same weekend, or they would have met in the regional quarterfinals.
It was a 5.5 game improvement for the Lady Rams after going 15-13 in 2016. Bryson says the top three Lady Ram players are set to return next spring.
“They’re all three very good players and seem to be good friends and just good girls all around. I can’t wait to work with them,” said Bryson, who noted Mineral Wells will not compete in next weekend’s Texas Teenage Softball High School Eligible championships in Stephenville because their three top guns have a prior commitment to Fort Worth Bat Busters, their select team.
Bryson acknowledges the irony in him landing the Mineral Wells gig. He received three offers and declined to name the two he turned down.
“It’s funny, really, because everywhere I’ve been a head coach in Texas, I’ve always coached against Mineral Wells and never had a clue then that I might end up coaching for them,” said Bryson. “I coached against them when I was at Saginaw and at Granbury and, of course, here at Stephenville.”
That was one of the most difficult years the Brysons have had to endure, made all the more difficult because the cause the source of their despair was so fara beyond anyone’s control.
After leading Bacone (Okla.) College to a second-place finish in the 2007 Red River Athletic Conference and being voted the conference coach of the year by his peers and counterparts, Wes was moving up in the world.
The Brysons left Muskogee, Oklahoma for Okland City, Indiana – a stone’s throw from Evansville, where Tarleton State University, Bryson’s alma mater, reached the 2015 national semifinals in men’s basketball – so he could become the new head coach at Oakland City University at an exciting time with its upward transition to NCAA Division II.
“I loved it there, absolutely loved it and may have stayed there forever,” said Bryson. “Then my dad died and I had to get back here and take care of my mom, I just had to.”
More heartbreak was on its way, too. About two months after the Brysons lost Wes’ dad, Michelle’s father passed away..
“I was not in a good place when I was coaching here,” he said. “I mean, I was in a great place because this is Stephenville and we love it here or we wouldn’t have come back and bought a business here, one that we spent three years trying to buy.
“But losing my dad and giving up a job (at Oakland City) I really enjoyed at a place where I truly believed I could build something special, and then Michelle losing her dad…tough time. It was tough on all of us.”
But the one constant throughout his career, high school and college alike, has been the joy of kids. Unbeknownst to some of the Stephenville softball players of 2008 is the impact they had on their coach, helping make that difficult spring a little more tolerable
“Man we had some great kids, just awesome kids to be around,” he said. “Right off the top of my head I remember Kamber Parker, and of course Katelyn Conlee and Christina Murphy. Those girls were awesome and really made the situation easier on me. In education, we are hired because someone in charge believes we will have a positive influence on their kids’ lives. Sometimes, though, like the year I was here in stephenville, we look around and realize it’s the kids who are having the positive influence on our lives.”
Michelle Bryson was the principal at Gilbert Intermediate School while Wes was coaching softball at SHS, and when she was offered a higher-ranking administration job in Guymon, Oklahoma, the Brysons began packing for another move.
“I had coaching offers we could have chased, but we decided Michelle had spent her entire career following me around so it was time for me to follow her for a change,” he said.
Life was good in Guymon and the surrounding Oklahoma panhandle. Michelle was assistant superintendent and Guymon softball soared to new heights with Wes piloting the program. His clubs posted a win percentage of .774 over seven seasons, going 144-42.
“We got to rolling a bit. They take their softball seriously in Oklahoma and we had some good players and good kids,” he recalls. “We won a lot more than we lost, and that’s always fun.
“Michelle was doing great, our softball program was in good shape, I’m sure we could have stayed there a long time and been happy.”
But nowhere, he said, is as happy as home. And with their children grown and an increasing number of grandchildren (there are six now), the family was again faced with a difficult decision.
“We needed to get back home. My family, her family, they’re all between here and Granbury,” Wes said. “The panhandle was good to me and it was good to Michelle, but there was just nothing there for the kids and grandkids.”
Finally, their efforts to purchase a Stephenville business reached fruition. The Brysons were headed back to the Cowboy Capital of the World.
“We’re home and it is good to be home,” said Wes. “The (grandchildren) in school are so happy in Stephenville that they’re doing better than they ever were in Guymon.”
Wes took off a year from coaching and teaching, but knew he wanted to get back in it. Their business, he says, will be fine with “the kids” working hard and “Momma” in charge.
Wes and Michelle are a couple weeks, he says, from closing on a new home north of Morgan Mill.
“That’s almost like living right in the middle, with our store here and the school there. I think it will be just right, like it was meant to be,” said Wes, who is certified in special education and will teach a BASE class for MWISD that he says is basically like ISS (in school suspension) for special ed.
Wes is downright country, enough to feel at home every day in the feed store. But after investing years into building a successful coaching career, he knows he’ll feel like home back on the diamond, too.
“I miss everything about it, but being around kids, that’s the main thing I’ve missed,” he said. “And there is something about competing. When you compete your whole life, that gets in your blood and you need it. I’m just excited to get to know these kids and hopefully show them how to compete at a high level the rest of their lives.”
“Mineral Wells,” he said, shaking his head and chuckling for a moment. “I never would have thought it , but now that’s happened I couldn’t imagine being any more excited.
Though his 2008 season in Stephenville was a difficult one, Bryson does remember a stretch of five wins in six games, mostly at a tournament in, where else, Mineral Wells.
He remembers beating Mineral Wells there, and he remembers coaching there against Mayes, who was then head coach at Eastland.
“Who could have ever known nine years later I would be getting introduced to the Mineral Wells girls as their new coach?” he asked rhetorically. “I really think it’s a good situation and I’m ready to get to work, especially on building relationships with my players, because if there is anything I’ve learned in the coaching business, it’s that relationships with players is the most important thing.
“You can be the smartest coach in the world, but it won’t matter if your players won’t give you everything they’ve got,” he said. “If the kids don’t know how much you care, they won’t care how much you know.”
The same thing, he’s learned, applies to the business world.
“You have to motivate people and get the best out of them. It doesn’t matter what sport you play or what industry you’re in, if you are really working hard and giving everything you’ve got to give, you’re almost always going to find a way to succeed.
The Brysons believe that, and have a thriving family business to show for it.
Wes is putting the same belief back to work on the diamond, back in his element, back in the game.