These parents try to hit every game their sons coach and grandkids play in. That's 70+ games a year.

Brannen brothers coach NKU and Walton-Verona
These parents try to hit every game their sons coach and grandkids play in. That's 70+ games a year.
Posted at 7:00 AM, Mar 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-03 07:00:43-05

FORT THOMAS, Ky. -- A day in the basketball life of John and Debbie Brannen is two parts organization and one part navigation.

The couple, married 45 years, leave their Fort Thomas home on a Saturday morning in late February to see a game played by their grandchildren in Northern Kentucky. Then they're off to Louisville to watch their son Grant coach the Walton-Verona boys' varsity basketball team in postseason action.

There's no time to dally after the final buzzer, because their other son, John, coaches the Northern Kentucky University men's hoops team. The Norse play at Wright State, so it's back in the car for the 150-mile trek to Dayton.

Several hours and 60 miles later, they're home once more.

That's a typical schedule for the Brannens, whose collective time from November to March is devoted to familial basketball endeavors. Their evenings and weekends are filled with games coached by their sons as well as the activities of their four grandchildren.

They couldn't imagine a better retirement, even if that means 36,000 vehicle miles and a hefty amount of Kroger fuel to travel to 70-plus basketball games each season.

"You can't get these moments back," Debbie Brannen said. "You've got to seize every moment and support your family. We just wouldn't do it any other way."

For the last two years, the younger Brannen, John, 43, has helmed the Norse program while Grant Brannen, 37, is in his fourth year at Walton-Verona. Once the Norse's schedule is set, John sends it to Grant and he best adapts his high school schedule to avoid conflicts for his parents.

"They try to make it to every one of my games and every one of my brother's games," Grant Brannen said. "It's funny because one of my assistants said, 'I've been able to catch most of the NKU home games this season.' And I said, 'There's a reason for that.' "

It's not so easy for John Brannen to make it to Walton-Verona outings, though, due to his recruiting responsibilities.

"That's the tough part. (Grant) comes to a ton of our games. I've made two of his games this season. I wish I could make more," John Brannen said.

The Brannen parents keep a computer printout of their sons' team schedules handy at home. When games occasionally overlap, they split up: Mr. Brannen travels with the Norse and Mrs. Brannen heads to Walton-Verona.

Last weekend afforded another snapshot of their busy lives. They went to a game Friday (NKU defeated the University of Illinois at Chicago at BB&T Arena), Saturday (Walton-Verona won at Williamstown in the 32nd District championship) and Sunday (NKU defeated Horizon League leader Valparaiso at BB&T Arena).

"It's unbelievable what they do, and the thing about it is, it's not just this year. They've been going at it since my brother started his coaching career," Grant Brannen said. "Now they're retired, so they live the good life. But for five months a year, it's nonstop basketball action."

Grant Brannen said basketball has been an acquired taste for his mother, who's now among the most competitive members of the family. John Brannen said his father sends him encouraging text messages on game days and remains a constant source of optimism.

"He's the most positive person in the world, so after every loss, he finds a way to make you feel like you're going to win the next ten in a row," John Brannen said.

NKU, a Cinderella story of a team in its first year of NCAA Tournament eligibility after reclassifying from Division II, has been the talk of the town lately. John Brannen, who was Wednesday named Horizon League coach of the year, has led the Norse (21-10, 12-6 Horizon League) to a third-place tie in the regular-season conference standings and the fourth seed in Motor City Madness, the Horizon League Tournament.

NKU faces Wright State at 7:30 p.m. Sunday in Detroit.

Although the Norse must win the Horizon League tourney to claim the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, they could still play in the National Invitational Tournament, College Basketball Invitational or another postseason tourney.

The Brannens have a trip to the southern Caribbean planned for late March, but they've purchased trip insurance, hoping they'll be watching hoops instead.

"I think it's very important as a parent that we back our children no matter what they do," John Brannen said.

"Plus, we enjoy just watching their expressions, watching how they handle themselves," Debbie Brannen said. "When it's your child and you see what they've grown into, you're always so proud."