When Mark Kensy broke into the high school basketball coaching ranks in 1985, he had to coach against a legend his first game in Archie O’Bryan.
Not the easiest of tasks but far easier than dealing with the fact that the longtime Iroquois coach is no longer with us.
O’Bryan died on Tuesday afternoon at the age of 64. Michael O’Bryan said his father’s death was due to an illness related to multiple medical issues that kept him hospitalized the past five months.
O’Bryan served as the longtime coach of boys basketball, football and softball at Iroquois before retiring in 2008. He coached his teams to 273 basketball wins, nine division titles and one Section VI Class B championship.
“Very enthusiastic, very passionate and very theatrical,” Kensy said. “He loved the game and he loved his kids.”
After stepping down at Iroquois, he joined the coaching staff of his second-youngest son, Erik – first at North Tonawanda and then at Niagara-Wheatfield high schools. He served as an assistant at Niagara-Wheatfield until medical issues prevented him from doing that.
An example of Archie’s theatricality on the court, according to Erik O’Bryan: During one game Archie instructed one of his players to shadow the guy who was hurting his team the most that day to start the third quarter. The individual happened to be one of the game officials.
Erik and Archie had a special father-son coaching moment when North Tonawanda won the Niagara Frontier League during the 2009-10 season.
“He gave me a big hug and said great job, son,” Erik said.
But in true Archie style …
“Then he looked at me and said you’re only eight (titles) off (my total) now,” Erik said.
“I became a teacher and a coach because of my dad,” he said. “He’s my hero.”
The family has received countless condolence messages from former players, who learned more than just X’s and O’s from Archie. They learned life lessons, too.
“It’s amazing, he touched more lives than I can ever imagine,” Erik O’Bryan said.
Archie O’Bryan, who was the nephew of late Grand Island coaching legend Gene Masters, is survived by his wife, Pamela Mills-O’Bryan; his sons Erik, Sean, Todd and Mike; and nine grandchildren. Three of his sons are in athletic halls of fame at their respective high schools. Mike O’Bryan is a scholastic and college basketball official.
Archie O’Bryan is in the Iroquois Athletics Hall of Fame, while Erik is in the North Tonawanda Sports Hall, Sean the NT Football Hall of Fame and Mike in the Kenmore East Athletic Hall.
They learned his teachings well. They’re not the only ones.
“He put his mark on Western New York,” said Mike O’Bryan.