It’s Tuesday night in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You and your family are sitting down for a meal when you hear a knock at the door. Who could it be? If you were a girls track and field or girls cross country athlete at Pioneer High School, chances are it was your coach, Bryan Westfield, checking up on you.
The recent winner of our “America’s Best 2014-15 Coach” contest, Westfield, who taught Biology during his time at Pioneer, and would do this for all of his students and players if they unexpectedly missed class or practice, but he wouldn’t do it to get you in trouble. He’d do it because he cared.
“If you didn’t show up to practice he was on the phone or at your door wondering why you were not at practice that day,” said his daughter, Crystal Westfield. “He cared.”
A track athlete and football player at both Pioneer and Cornell University, Westfield tried out for the Olympics and played on the New York Giants development team for a year. He created Pioneer’s girls program in 1979 and coached athletes in Ann Arbor for the last 36 years. He also started the Ann Arbor Youth Track Club.
Coach Westfield lost his bout with esophageal cancer earlier this month. He was 72 years-young, considering just weeks prior to his passing he was running the Pioneer halls, according to his daughter, a fellow Pioneer teacher and his assistant coach for the last 24 years.
In the program’s 36-years, Westfield led the girls to 16 state titles, with six runner-up finishes. On top of that, he coached the girls cross country team to three state titles and six more runner-up finishes. A four-time National High School Coach of the Year (’02, ’03, ’07, ’08), Westfield has coached 243 All-State Track and Cross Country runners, including 59 All-Americans.
Nominated by his peers 34 times for Michigan Track/Cross Country Coach of the Year, Westfield was awarded the honor 17 times, leading to his induction into the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Michigan High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2014.
“His dedication to the community reaches beyond the track,” said Crystal, whose father was also known for helping African American children throughout the Ann Arbor Community. “He also started and directed the Pioneer Gospel Choir for many years, and I was the Piano player for that choir. So we worked together in many capacities.”
Crystal went on to talk about how her parents would open the door to those in need, whether you just needed food or even a place to stay if you had nowhere to go.
“I shared my bedroom with plenty of people during my childhood because he and my mother took people in. When I was growing up, I had five sisters, with 13 foster children in and out of our house along with taking in anyone who needed a place to stay. He had a generous heart and God bless my mother who was his right hand and helped raise everyone.”
Pioneer AD and Assistant Principal Eve Claar saw first hand the positive impact Westfield had on the community, going as far to say the coach is “irreplaceable.”
“To say he went the extra mile with his students is an understatement. He was there for kids on the track as their coach, but he was so far beyond that,” said Claar. “He was talking to their parents, their teachers, he took kids into his home, he drove kids home, not only did he coach these kids, he almost adopted them…he was a role model, and for a lot of them, a fatherly role model.
“He did that for so many kids who, without him, would never have had that. We’ve all been blessed by his presence and I’m happy to have known him.”
Coach Westfield had a no cut policy, a rarity in today’s world of uber-competitive sports. Even more impressive than that, every athlete earned a varsity letter their first year “because he felt that from the time and commitment that they put in (from Winter conditioning and competition to spring track and field) that they deserved to earn a letter.”
Crystal loved that aspect of her father’s coaching philosophy, but when asked about her fondest memory of her father, she mentioned one of Pioneer’s 16 state title track meets.
“We had won by a pretty big margin and did not have to run the 4 x 400-meter relay. The girls decided to run it because if we ran it and won, we would set a state record, and my father wanted that record. After winning the race we were the first track team, girls or boys in the state of Michigan, to score over 100 points in a state meet.”
To the Pioneer and Ann Arbor community, Westfield was a father, coach, teacher, mentor and granddad. When asked to describe him in one word, the answers were inspiring. Trailblazer, for his dedication. Legacy, for his accomplishments. Loving, for his compassion to his students. Most importantly, enormous, for his heart.
On top of all that, Westfield made sure that an athlete never paid for their entry fee into a meet, a hefty price to pay over 36 years.
“He didn’t think it was right for a child to have to pay to compete. All children could not afford it, so he made it so that everything financially was taken care of,” said Crystal, who also mentioned that her father had already taken care of this upcoming season for cross country. “That was just like him to make sure no one was left out and that his sport did not stop anyone from participating because of financial obligations.”
Why did he do it all? Because he cared.