A football team fundraiser in 1996 sticks out in Bob Bridges’ mind as the fondest memory from his storied 31-year teaching career.
The longtime physical education teacher from Westsyde secondary was once witness to the fruits of his labour when more than 105 alumni showed up from two decades of his teaching career.
"Some of them were in their 40s at the time and played contact football," Bridges said. "You got a chance to see what they became ... some guys were lawyers, and doctors, real estate agents — all the different areas they had chosen and the success they had had."
For Bridges, it has always brought him great satisfaction to see the athletes he coached obtain great things, such as a university scholarships or a career in the CFL.
Bridges was one of the first staff members at Westsyde secondary when the school was built in 1973.
He recalled to KTW those first gym classes taking place on fields that were still being seeded.
“The school was basically half-built at that time,” he said.
Bridges, 70, is now being recognized for his years of service and dedication to the high school, which is honouring him at Wednesday night’s graduation by adding his name to its Wall of Fame.
"I'm honoured that they see I contributed enough to Weststde secondary to put me on the wall," he said.
Bridges, a member of the Kamloops Sports Hall of Fame, first came to the city in 1970 to pitch for the Kamloops Okonots baseball team.
The Tucson, Ariz., native was attending Western Washington University at the time and returned the next two summers, with the intention of staying in Kamloops if he could find a teaching job.
One of the catchers on the team was set to be the principal at the new Westsyde high school and guaranteed Bridges a job.
“I took him at his word and turned down a teaching job in Arizona and came up here,” Bridges said.
He coached senior boys football from 1975 to 2001 and senior girls basketball from 1982 to 2004, along with rugby and track and field.
Bridges had a 523-214 record coaching basketball, leading his teams to 16 appearances in the provincial championships, winning the tournament in 1993.
He was the school’s athletic director for 20 years and a longtime member of the district’s athletic council.
Westsyde’s annual Wall of Fame ceremony began in 2014 during the 40th anniversary of the school, inducting notable teachers and students, such as Olympic shot-putter Dylan Armstrong.
On Wednesday night during the graduation ceremony, it will be Bridges’ turn, returning to a school where he committed so many years, now staffed with some former students, like WSS principal Chris Preymak, who Bridges taught in gym class.
“He definitely expected you to give your all when it came to PE class,” Preymak said. “Even if you had never played a sport before, he didn’t care if you were good at it or not, as long as you were putting in your best effort.”
Bridges’ friend and former colleague, Vic Bifano, who was also an inaugural Westsyde staff member, will present him with the honour.
Bifano said when he first met Bridges, he thought he was a pompous American — something the two friends joke about that today — but they were always “on the same wavelength” when it came to students.
“Bob is recognized by his caring for kids, whether it be his football players or the girls basketball team, his commitment to teaching and education and his love for our community,” Bifano said.
Bridges, an accomplished baseball player, became a Canadian citizen in 1977 in order to play for the country’s national team, which he did from 1977 to 1979 and again in 1988.
But education has always came first, in the past turning down Major League Baseball contracts to complete his education as well as requests to play for the Canadin national team because the dates conflicted with his teaching and coaching duties.
Bridges retired to Tucson in 2004 to care for his parents, but couldn’t be kept away from teaching, taking up a small-town U.S.A. teaching job — something on his bucket list — in the interim.
After his parents passed in 2015, he and his wife Kim decided to return to Kamloops, and Westsyde, and enjoy retirement.
“It’s been an interesting journey — let’s put it that way,” he said.