Although I am—by my own admission—a world-class narcissist, I do write about other people from time to time. I especially enjoy writing about those among us who are selfless, caring individuals who go above and beyond while serving our community. My friend Crystal Branch is one of those people.

          Travis Naughton

Coach Branch, as she is affectionately known by virtually everyone who has been a student or parent of a student in the Southern Boone school district, has taught physical education in Ashland for more years than she would like me to say. During her career, she has taught thousands of young people important lessons about teamwork, fair play, fitness, and sportsmanship. Crystal’s dry sense of humor and supernatural amount of patience are the keys to dealing with so many young children (and jokers like me.) Let me assure you, she is very good at both.

Coach Branch’s impact on young people goes far beyond the primary school gymnasium. She is also the very successful coach of SoBoCo’s cross-country teams. After many years of practices, bus rides, and meets, Crystal’s dedication to her kids has not wavered. Take last week for example.

On Friday night, following a long week of teaching kindergartners, first graders, and second graders, Coach Branch attended the annual end of season awards banquet for her runners. The following morning, she was on a bus with her team as they headed to the district meet. And on Sunday, her well-earned day off, Coach Branch came out to cheer on the Ashland Eagles youth cross-country team comprised of several of her former students competing at a local meet. I’m certain her support meant a great deal to those hard-working kiddos.

All this talk about running and P.E. may mislead you into believing that Coach Branch only cares about athletics. Nothing could be further from the truth. Earlier in the week, Crystal made time to attend the premier of the high school’s production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Her review (posted online) echoed my own sentiments: “The kids did an amazing job. It was creepy and funny at the same time. I love to see the kids I had many years ago grow into such fantastic young adults.”

Despite dedicating so much of her time to supporting other people’s kids, Crystal is equally great at supporting her own. All three of her offspring have grown into outstanding young adults, and each of them is a reflection of not only their mother, but also of their father Jeff who is a good friend of mine, too, and a great friend to our community. Crystal and Jeff are also proud grandparents to two adorable young girls whom I have had the honor of teaching and getting to know over the last few years. They, too, are a product of their grandmother’s devotion to others.

Over the years, Crystal and Jeff have hosted countless gatherings for their many Southern Boone friends at their Englewood home. They are renowned for their spectacular fireworks display every July 4th as well as their Christmas and last day of school get-togethers for Crystal’s primary school co-workers. I have had the distinct pleasure of attending several of those social functions, and on one beautiful summer evening I even officiated a wedding at the Branch Ranch. Their hospitality has no bounds.

Crystal’s giving spirit inevitably fosters a giving spirit in those around her. Case in point: her efforts in supporting the American Heart Association through the organization’s Jump Rope for Heart campaign. For several years, Coach Branch has conducted this fund raising program at the primary school to encourage students to exercise and eat right while soliciting donations to fund the AHA’s life-saving programs. Children receive fun prizes as a reward for their efforts, and the AHA receives a fairly large amount of money from a relatively small school.

In recent years, the amount raised has been in the neighborhood of $5000 per campaign. At last Friday’s end of the month assembly at the Southern Boone Primary School, a special presentation was made by a representative of the American Heart Association. The 425 or so K through 2 students, under the guidance of their humble P.E. teacher, had raised over $11,700 dollars during this year’s Jump Rope for Heart campaign. When the shocking announcement was made, more than one person in attendance was moved to tears. I was one of them.

This surprisingly large sum is a testament to the generosity of the Southern Boone community and therefore should come as no surprise to anyone. And it should come as no surprise that Crystal Branch spearheaded the effort by inspiring the youngsters of our community as only she can.

Thank you, Coach Branch, for all that you do for Southern Boone County’s kids and grown-ups (and those of us who are still trying to figure out how to be grown-ups). We are all better for knowing you.