Over the years, Bill Bragg has made a point to attend the Colorado chapter of the Wrestling Hall of Fame banquet, just to catch up with old friends and teachers and honor those being inducted.
On Saturday, the 62-year-old former longtime teacher and wrestling coach at Wasson will return to the Colorado Springs Marriott. But this time, he'll be the one taking in the honors.
"When you go to the banquet, it's like a reunion," Bragg said recently from his home on Afton Way, right up the street from Wasson, where he coached and taught from 1977-2007. "It's a 'who's who' of Colorado wrestling. It's fun to go and mingle."
Bragg, a Fort Morgan native, is joining that 'who's who' list after an accomplished career in the sport, and that goes well beyond his time as a wrestling coach.
As a prep athlete, Bragg was 3A state runner-up at 165 pounds during his senior year, then won the state junior world championship in both freestyle and Greco-Roman. He defended his freestyle junior championship the next year.
He won nearly 70 percent of his matches at the University of Colorado. After earning his degree, Bragg made his debut in coaching as a graduate assistant at Oregon.
But he made his mark at Wasson, where he led the Thunderbirds to nine league titles and mentored 29 state placers and five state champions. During that time, he also taught a wide range of classes, from physical education and health to science and anatomy.
"Those were exciting times," Bragg said. "Especially when I had my first placers and when I had my first kids in the state finals. Those memories really stand out."
He was named Colorado High School Wrestling Coaches Association Coach of the year in 2006 and The Gazette's Coach of the Year in 1988, 1994-95 and 2005-06. In 1979, he also coached the U.S. Olympic Sports Festival West team and was an assistant with the national freestyle elite team.
When he retired from teaching and left Wasson, he wasn't ready to call it quits. He spent the next three seasons as an assistant wrestling coach at Cheyenne Mountain before Father Time finally gave him a tap on the shoulder.
"It's time for me to get out of the way," said Bragg, who spends his time in full retirement as a scuba diving instructor. "These younger guys have more energy and more ideas on how to get after it. Over a period of time, you realize it's time to get out. But it's been a great run. I've been able to work with fantastic people and a lot of great kids."
So on Saturday when he makes his acceptance speech, he'll use his five-minute maximum wisely, thanking those who lit his fire for the sport of wrestling.
He never was much of a joke teller, anyway.
"I used to tell jokes, but no one would laugh," Bragg said. "My brother would tell the same joke, and they'd tell him he was funny. I'm just not a joke teller, so I'll stick to talking about some of the people I was fortunate to work with."