Braswell nets Hall of Fame goal
Brien Braswell sits in his office underneath the old gym at Ragsdale High. Countless awards, including the state championship plaques his teams have won, wallpaper the room.
He speaks candidly, entertainingly and knowledgeably about soccer, his experiences as a coach and player, and his contributions to the game in the area for over an hour, but the time passes far too quickly.
He discusses teams and players many consider among the area’s best ever. They are tremendous stories. But, as his walls show, they are also his achievements, which is why he was chosen to be inducted into N.C. Soccer Hall of Fame.
“I was co-coach at the Clash of the Carolinas last summer, and I thought that was the best I could do,” says Braswell, who was honored alongside George Kennedy, William Hesmer and the UNC women’s soccer program. “But the Hall of Fame was something different.
“I was pleasantly surprised, but I understand I’ve put in a lot of hard work. Seven state championships is nothing to sneeze at. Being born here in North Carolina, playing high school and college here and then coaching here – those were no-brainers, from what I’ve been told.”
After spending time growing up in Tehran, Iran, where his parents were missionaries, he returned to North Carolina and played goalkeeper at Wake Forest-Rolesville and Ravenscroft, earning all-state and NSCAA All-South after allowing just three goals in 21 games as a senior.
It was during that same year, in which his teams won a state championship in soccer and also reached the state finals in tennis, that he attended the all-state banquet at Guilford College and met Steve Skinner, the coach of Guilford, which at that time was an NAIA school.
“My father was with me, and we did the deal right there – it was the best school I could get into academically,” he says, laughing. “It was a done deal. They gave us some money, and my parents made me go to Guilford. It was a good school for me — wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Unfortunately, Braswell suffered a leg injury that hindered his playing career. So, after graduating with a sports management degree, he worked as a house painter (which he still does on the side). But his parents urged him to find a career, so he toyed with becoming a teacher.
He started coaching at Ragsdale in 1989 while a student teacher — “I wanted to see if I liked teenagers before I got too deep into that coursework,” he says. “And I loved it.” Soon after, he became certified and was hired as a PE/health teacher, and he’s been there ever since.
Success on the field, though, was not immediate. He says he chased off everyone in his first couple years, but it all fell into place in 1991. With two key players joining the team, it got better through the second half of the year and eked its way into the playoffs.
After T.W. Andrews upset Eddie Pope-led Southwest Guilford in the quarterfinals, the Tigers beat the Red Raiders 3-2 on a cold night at Simeon Stadium in the semifinals. They then won won the 3A title 6-2 at South Iredell. “That changed Ragsdale, that changed me,” he says.
In ‘93-’94, Braswell helped lead both the boys and girls to state titles. Two years later, in ‘95-’96, both teams did it again – the only time in state history a program has done that twice. The girls later won state titles in 1999 and 2005, bringing Braswell’s personal total to eight.
Over the last 25 years, Braswell has coached talented players, like sisters Melissa and Siri Mullinix and many others who’ve had outstanding playing careers, but he also has learned the technical aspects and motivational aspects to help his players play their best.
“You want to put things in their heads so it’s natural, so they react,” he says. “If I tell you from the sideline, it’s already too late. It makes me feel better, but it’s too late. Soccer is a player’s game; it’s not a coach’s game. Players decide the game. ...
“And you have to learn what works. But what works for you might not work for your buddy. Or what works for this goalkeeper might not work for this forward. It’s the psychology — especially for girls. They will not play for you – I tell you what, you learn that early.”
At 49 years old, Braswell still intends to coach until at least he reaches retirement age. He’s seen the growth of soccer move away from high schools, but he’s OK with the balance he’s found in teaching and coaching and his personal life – although he says he might coach at the middle school level once he’s done coaching high school.
He doesn’t accept awards bestowed on him anymore — the ones he has are satisfaction enough. He wants up-and-coming coaches to be rewarded as well. But, despite being ill on the night of the banquet in Raleigh, he gladly accepted one more plaque from the N.C. Soccer Hall of Fame to mount somewhere on the wall (if he can find a space) in his office.
“Last year was the first one I’d been to. I helped set up the plaques, got a free meal, got to watch,” he says. “I told Herk (DeGraw, Grimsley coach) I didn’t mind helping — just let me know. So, I left there with a good feeling. I sat at a far back table, so I really didn’t get the whole feeling of it. My family was right in front of the podium this time. It’s just so nice. Everybody’s so kind.
“When it hits you, it’s just the magnitude of it. And you see all of these hall of famers, ex-players — it was very special. I didn’t really anticipate it. … It was an enormous honor, and I really appreciate it. It was very humbling. Just like a soccer team, you don’t get here with one player, and I dedicated my induction to all the players who played for me at Ragsdale.”