After playing basketball for Shrewsbury 66 years ago, Bryan returns to the court


By Evan Walsh, Contributing Writer

Jan Bryan stands on the Oak Middle School gymnasium floor, where she started playing basketball 66 years ago. (Photo/Evan Walsh)
Jan Bryan stands on the Oak Middle School gymnasium floor, where she started playing basketball 66 years ago. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

SHREWSBURY – It had been a while since Jan Bryan worked on her lay-up or three-point shot – but she’s not letting that stop her.

As she walked around the Oak Middle School gymnasium, dribbling a basketball underneath the basket, Bryan was met with both nostalgia and excitement. 

Roughly 66 years ago, while Oak was still Shrewsbury High School, she played for the varsity basketball team. Bryan stopped playing basketball after she graduated, but on May 22, she’ll be going back to her old stomping ground to join dozens of other Shrewsbury staff members in an exhibition basketball game against the Harlem Wizards to raise money for Shrewsbury Public Schools. 

She was 14 when she scored her first point in this gym; she’ll be celebrating her 80th birthday this time around.  

“I’m not going to humiliate myself for just anybody,” she said. 


Journey to substitute teaching

Bryan grew up in Shrewsbury and, like her father and grandfather, graduated from Shrewsbury High School. She attended the high school – which became Oak Middle School in 2004 – from 1958 to 1962. The school, built in 1953, was new at the time, and still housed eighth-grade students. In addition to playing field hockey and working on the school’s newspaper, she played  center on the basketball team.

“That was my life. I love basketball. I loved my team, and it’s a highlight in my life when I played basketball here,” she said. 

Life soon took Bryan away from basketball. She attended UMass Amherst – majoring in English – married and had five children. She traveled throughout the United States, living with her husband in California and Pennsylvania for some time as he studied to become a dentist. She eventually returned to Shrewsbury and established Bryan Dental Associates with her family.

Bryan ran the front-of-house operations for the business, which is located on Maple Avenue in Shrewsbury, for 40 years, while her husband did most of the dental work. 

The practice was a “family business” in every sense of the word. Bryan described how much she loved working alongside her family and children. The situation was, as she described, “perfect.”

So, when it came time to retire at 72, Bryan was puzzled. Something was missing: She still wanted to do something with her time, but she wasn’t exactly sure what. Bryan’s daughter, remembering that her mother had three years of teaching experience in Pennsylvania, suggested substitute teaching. The job would keep her active, and it didn’t require working summers or weekends. 

However, once the job started, she no longer cared about the schedule – she cared about the students.

“In the first two or three weeks, I fell in love with the kids. I really did. I came home and, basically, I decided I’d go in five times a week. I feel like I have 1,000 grandchildren. That’s how

I look at it. I didn’t realize that kids would respond to that. You don’t know the impact that you can have on someone,” said Bryan.

Now, Bryan comes to Sherwood Middle School every day to see the kids. She’s the building substitute, always ready to enter the classroom and interact with – and teach – students. In addition to her substitute role, she’s done some long-term subbing. Whatever she’s doing, Bryan has become a favorite in the building. 

“When you have someone that is dependable, dedicated, comes to work everyday with a smile, knows how to communicate with kids at their level – it’s special. Jan knows kids. Once you look and see the impact she has, the amount of kids that are going to show up [to see her play basketball] just because she’s there, it’s incredible. She’s incredible,” Sherwood Principal Jonathan Kelly said.


Return to the court

Jan Bryan stands on the Oak Middle School gymnasium floor, where she started playing basketball 66 years ago. (Photo/Evan Walsh)
Jan Bryan stands on the Oak Middle School gymnasium floor, where she started playing basketball 66 years ago. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

On May 22, the Harlem Wizards, a high-flying basketball entertainment group, will visit Oak Middle School for an exciting fundraiser run by the Shrewsbury Middle School PTO. The Wizards are set to face a group of Shrewsbury educators; hundreds of students and community members are expected to attend. 

Oak Principal Hallie Burak first thought of the event.

“We’ve been looking for ways to get Sherwood and Oak kids together… For me, it’s important to try to bring students together at this age, grades five through eight. Also, when students can see people in their lives make an impact doing fun things, it’s meaningful. I got through this time in my life as a student because of adults who were in my life that believed in me. Jan is one of those people. She has more impact than I think she realizes,” Kelly said. 

So, when assembling the roster of Oak and Sherwood staff for the game, Kelly had some decisions to make. Who would students most want to see on the court? Who would fill the Oak Middle School gymnasium? Kelly asked Bryan, and although she was skeptical at first, she said she was ready to “humiliate herself” for a good cause.

Aside from playing driveway basketball with her children, Bryan hasn’t played competitive basketball for over 60 years. Still, she’s taking the game seriously, regularly practicing, dribbling around and perfecting her “granny shot,” as she calls it. She wants one of the Wizards to lift her into the air and let her dunk, but she’ll call scoring one basket a success. 

More than anything, she’s excited to see her former students, her family in the stands, and have an evening full of fun.

She debuted on the court as a 14-year-old eighth-grader. Now, she’s emerging as an 80-year-old icon. 

“[I’m hoping to] encourage one person who’s getting up to my age. Everybody thinks it’s over, but it’s never over. My motto was, ‘The best is yet to come.’ I’d always say that, and I was so happy at the [dentistry] practice… but when the opportunity came to come and substitute teach – it’s just getting better,” she said, noting that she’s treating the game as an 80th birthday celebration. 

“I’ve had a really blessed life,” she said. “Who would think my life would change at 76 years old?”

Do you want to see Bryan in action? Get your ticket here:

“It’s a fun night for our community. It’s a chance for people to come together. Maybe we’ll do well in the game,” Kelly said.


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