Ken Brackett's life was centered on working with kids – and his passion was the game of basketball.
"Kenny was a great teacher and great friend and really a top-flight basketball guy," said Medfield High School athletic director Jon Kirby.
Kirby, a longtime friend of Brackett, described the Blake Middle School physical education/wellness teacher who passed away Monday as a "loyal" person who had a "special sense of humor."
"I think unless you [were] in the gym with him or unless you got a chance to know him that [his sense of humor] didn't come through a lot," Kirby said. "I couldn't have asked for a better friend."
Kirby said he and Brackett knew each other since 1975, when they were both at Pilgrim Day Camp in Framingham.
"It's been a long-term relationship and I was the connection here at Medfield to help him get started," Kirby said. "He was my assistant basketball coach while I was the head coach at Ashland [in the 80s] and when I got the head job here [Medfield] after Joe Farroba left, he was my assistant here in Medfield."
After Kirby's coaching tenure in Medfield ended, Brackett moved on to coach basketball and tennis at Natick High School. He was an assistant coach in Natick for four years and was a head coach at NHS for six years. He coached tennis for 10 seasons. Then, according to Kirby, an opening came up at Blake Middle School in the physical education department and Brackett pursued the position.
"Kenny applied and got the job," Kirby said. "This was his 13th year at Blake."
Kirby was instrumental in forming the on-court partnership between Brackett and Herb Grace at Medfield High School, giving the boys' varsity basketball program two tremendous coaches.
"I was so close to Ken but I was equally close to Herb Grace and helped make that marriage so to speak," Kirby said.
That "marriage" resulted in a wealth of success for the boys' basketball team with Grace serving as head coach of the Warriors and Brackett as his assistant.
"[The boys' basketball team] played in the Garden and won at UMass Boston," said Kirby. "They’ve had a tremendous run. They won five straight TVL titles. In Kenny’s six years, they won five TVL titles, this would be the year they didn’t."
Brackett's passion for basketball covered all aspects of the game.
"I think everything about the game [Brackett loved]," Kirby said. "It was all about the game. He got close to the players and we all care about the players we coach each season but he had a real passion for how to play it right and to teach the game. I think back to AAU where he was a real teacher of skills and doing it right. Playing good defense and changing defenses.
"His saying with the kids was 'the games are optional, practice is mandatory.' Meaning you got to bring it to practice every day because that’s where we are learning how to play. That was his game day that was where he was prepared and really wanted to teach the game. The games were for the kids, practice was his."
Grace referred to Brackett as a “basketball encyclopedia” and said he learned a lot about the game and from coaching with him.
“Kenny was an outstanding basketball coach and helped our program out tremendously,” Grace said. “He absolutely loved the game of basketball. He loved talking hoops. He was very passionate about coaching the kids in Medfield. He cared deeply about them.
Grace said he was excited when he learned Brackett would be coaching with him and that he was looking forward to working with someone with the experience and knowledge Brackett brought to the court. But the relationship went beyond the gym.
"Little did I know how great friends we would become," Grace said. "My favorite memories with him won't necessarily be about basketball. We would talk on the phone and hang out in the off-season all the time. He was a great human being and we are all so blessed to have had him as our friend. I will miss him."
Brackett dedicated his life to basketball and teaching the game to kids and adults alike, but just as importantly it was the friendships he made and bonds he created in the community and around the schools that made a lasting impression on his colleagues and friends.
"I will always remember Mr. Brackett as a dedicated and caring professional," said Blake Middle School principal Robert Parga. "The well-being of students was his top priority. Mr. Brackett went out of his way to better understand the students at Blake and their various needs. He loved teaching physical education. He took great pride in his lessons and was always willing to try new things."
Like Kirby, Grace and Parga will not forget Brackett's sense of humor.
"What I will remember most about Kenny is his dry sense of humor," Grace said. "People don't realize how funny he could be. His friendship meant so much to me."
Parga said: "Mr. Brackett will be missed. I will never forget his humor and his genuine care and concern for the Blake Middle School. Mr. Brackett was an important member of our Wellness Department. He worked closely with his colleagues, they planned together and created such a wonderful physical education experience for our students."
Kirby said: "The kids on the teams certainly knew his ways and knew his humor. His dedication to them and the game … the kids knew he was there for the team and Kenny brought it every day."
Brackett was known for always pitching in and helping out where and when he could, according to Parga.
"He was a fixture in the cafeteria during lunches and attended field trips with various classes," Parga said. "He also was the first to volunteer to help with the school-wide activities and assemblies. He believed that all of the adults in the building played an important role in supporting students."
Brackett, 54, passed away suddenly in his Ashland home Monday morning. The cause of death remains unknown.
While Brackett's life came to a tragic and sudden end, his memory will live on in those who worked with him, taught by him and fortunate enough to know him. His legacy will forever live on in the game of basketball.