By Rick Assad
Life is precious and shouldn’t be taken for granted. Sometimes it’s when your very existence hangs in the balance that we actually realize this.
In the case of Bruce Breeden, the Burbank High basketball coach, sports administrator and teacher, he found out just how wonderful being alive is.
In 2016, Breeden, according to doctors, accidentally came in contact with a dead bird while camping and contracted the West Nile Virus.
This is no laughing matter and can have dire consequences. To put it plainly, Breeden was in the fight of his life.
West Nile is transmitted by mosquitoes to humans and animals and can be mild or extremely serious.
The symptoms include stiff neck, fever, headaches, rash, disorientation, swollen lymph nodes, vision problems, seizures, malaise and paralysis.
“The West Nile Virus was very hard on my family and for me,” said Breeden, who graduated from Hoover High in Glendale in 1973 and was a member of the varsity hoops team that reached the CIF Southern Section semifinals, losing to Pasadena. “It was 10 days of not remembering anything and then five months of rehabilitation and being hospitalized for one month.”
In time, Breeden, a Social Science teacher within the Special Education Department, rallied and couldn’t be more thankful.
This past month, he became the girls’ varsity basketball coach after taking some time off from the post the last two years.
“I missed coaching and I want to mentor a young coach and I enjoy all the other parts of being a coach,” he said of why he’s back in the fold and on the bench.
Breeden has been on the Bulldogs campus for 16 years and has been co-athletic director along with his other duties.
Is one easier than the other or about the same? “For me, it was challenging doing both jobs, coaching and being an athletic director and doing them well, but I’m thankful I had the opportunity to do both,” he said.
Patrick McMenamin, Breeden’s co-athletic director and math teacher, worked side-by-side with Breeden.
“It was a true pleasure working together with Bruce. He instilled a competitive spirit with our coaching staff and he was very selfless with his duties,” he said. “He was a great teammate to have.”
There was one slight difference in one job versus the other according to Breeden, who attends countless sporting events during a week.
“I would say coaching is less stressful than being an athletic director and that’s because you’re involved in all the sports and not just one,” he pointed out.
In each job there is one ingredient that is extremely necessary and it made both jobs easier.
“It’s possible to do both jobs, but you have to be well organized and willing to put in the time,” Breeden explained.
Breeden takes great pleasure being an administrator and coach and knows that the key is being able to work with young athletes.
“I don’t think the student-athletes have changed that much over the past five years, but they do have a lot more things going on between school and family,” he noted.
Like everyone, Breeden has had to work around the coronavirus, which has made his work an uphill battle.
“COVID-19 is still affected at the high school level. We still have a protocol to follow, but we are able to play games and practice,” he said of the obvious challenge.
Breeden is definitely looking forward to being on the bench and leading the Bulldogs’ basketball team.
McMenamin knows that the squad will be in good hands.
“Bruce is such a competitor. What stands out about him is that he constantly works to bring the best out of his athletes,” he said. “He also teaches our kids to take pride in our school and its facilities.”
Tall at 6-foot-3, lean at 175 pounds and still athletic, Breeden appears as though he’s still able to handle himself on a basketball court like he did while playing hoops for Azusa Pacific University coach Cliff Hamlow.
Hamlow built a rock-solid program in 1954, coaching 32 seasons and winning 20 games or better 16 times and capping his career with a 570-413 record for a .580 winning percentage.
The Cougars won the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics District III title in 1974 and an invitation to the NAIA 32-team tournament championship in Kansas City, Missouri.
Is hoops Breeden’s favorite sport or merely the one he’s most closely associated with?
“No, I have a passion for all sports and I love to support all student-athletes,” he said.
Breeden thinks the students at Burbank are all hard-working and capable of succeeding in any field they chose.
“When I look back on my time at Burbank High, I will have fond memories. We have great students that work hard in the classroom and are committed to their extra curricular activities,” he said. “I hope I have made an impact on the students that I have taught and coached.”
Breeden has definitely done that and more and his presence on the campus and at sports events is welcome, especially after the scare he went through five years ago.