You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Jun 9, 2011 : 6:17 p.m.

Man who died at Ypsilanti library was a former Olympic wrestler and Scarlett Middle school teacher, coach

By Juliana Keeping

James Bryant once took leave from teaching science at Scarlett Middle School to compete for his country as a freestyle wrestler.

He was robbed of his Olympic dreams when the United States boycotted the Moscow games in the summer of 1980 - but he went on to create a middle school coaching dynasty at Scarlett that sent others on the path he’d once hoped to take.


James Bryant

Scarlett Middle School yearbook photo

Bryant, 62, died Tuesday at an Ypsilanti District Library in Ypsilanti Township. The former Olympic wrestler was a well-known and respected veteran science teacher at Scarlett Middle School in Ann Arbor who lived in a perpetual state of physical fitness, those who knew him said.

Despite his healthy lifestyle, he had a stroke a year ago in class, his colleagues said. He took a leave of absence from the coaching duties and job he'd held for decades.

A library patron found Bryant, an Ypsilanti Township resident, Tuesday morning at the library’s Whittaker Road branch, the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department confirmed Thursday. The patron found Bryant unresponsive in the men’s room. He had not been seen inside the library, library officials said.

It’s possible he had been out running on a scorching day that pushed the heat index to 100 degrees before he stopped in the library, said Derrick Jackson, sheriff’s department spokesperson. Jackson said Bryant died before rescue workers arrived.

The Washtenaw County Medical Examiner’s Office had not made an official determination on his death Thursday afternoon, Jackson said.

Bryant's stroke in early 2010 occurred while he was teaching, said Edward Broom, who had worked for five years with Bryant while an assistant principal at Scarlett. Broom and others ran to his aid.

“He was known as a fair and honest teacher,” Broom said. “He was well-respected by the kids. I think it’s because of his high expectations in the classroom. Students knew what to expect with Mr. Bryant. There were no surprises.”

Fikisha Taylor had Bryant as her middle school science teacher - so did her daughter, Taylor Sills, as a 6th grade student last school year.

“There are certain teachers you remember and others you forget,” Fikisha Taylor said. “He was one that stayed with me.”

Bryant joked with her daughter that she’d better meet the standard set by her mom. And then half way through the year, he told Fikisha that Taylor had exceeded her mother as a student.

“He still remembered what kind of student I was, and put the same demand on Taylor,” Fikisha Taylor said.

Zeke Jones, a student Bryant coached, is one former student who went on to wrestling success after learning the sport from his middle school coach. Jones won a silver medal in Barcelona in 1992 and is now the head coach of the nation's freestyle wrestling team.

Christopher Curtis, principal of Slauson Middle School, also had Bryant as a middle school science teacher and wrestling coach in the 1980s.

Curtis said Bryant was a legendary coach, and added that his Olympic background gave him a certain mystique. And he was tough.

“If you were one of his wrestlers , you were one of his kids. That also means he was hard on you. If you wrestled for him, you certainly know how to do push ups. If you screwed up in class, he’d make you do push ups.”

“He had high expectations and high energy,” Curtis said. “He was to me and a lot of other people, a legend. “

Juliana Keeping covers general assignment and health and the environment for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter



Sun, Sep 11, 2011 : 4:48 p.m.

I took my wife and daughter to see were daddy grew up. We live in Miami know. I wanted to show them what a beautiful place Ann Arbor is and how nice and welcoming people are here. As we made are way around town I wanted to stop by Scarlett, I have so many fond memmories of my childhood back then, especially of Mr. Bryant. I was one of his wrestlers during 1984 and 85 and would wrestle with him cause we were about the same weight, ofcourse he was like a 1000 times stronger and faster then me, but he would never take my confidence or make me feel weak. He was a person I always looked up to and admired. Mr. Bryant I just wanted to thank you for being a great coach, win or loose you always made it fun. Mr. Bryant thanks for the great memories, Albert


Fri, Jun 10, 2011 : 6:49 p.m.

I've known James Bryant through his rigorous classroom teaching and his involvement in coaching over the years. He was a dedicated teacher and mentor for the young people whose lives he touched, as well as a concerned and helpful colleague to the school staff and other adults he worked with. James radiated a type of "class" which was a gift of his. He could joke around, but was a serious scholar and always gave 100 percent to his endeavors. Mr. Bryant will be missed by all who were lucky enough to know him.


Fri, Jun 10, 2011 : 5:13 p.m.

In the past, I used to visit Scarlett Middle School on a regular basis but it could be a later period of time after Mr. Bryant worked there. The story indicates the possibility of Heat Stroke or Heat Hyperpyrexia which is a medical emergency. It surprises me that this Science teacher, and athlete became a victim of effects of heat. Some years ago, we lost a young college student at University of Michigan who was trying to lose his weight rapidly in preparation for a boxing event. Boxing and Wrestling are sporting events and they have weight classifications for the participants. The coaches are expected to be aware of the dangers of heat effects; apart from environmental heat, exercise can cause thermal imbalance in the body associated with sweating which tries to dissipate body's heat. From the story, it appears that he got exposed to environmental heat for some time and it caused heat reaction. I would explain his visit to men's room was because of heat reaction which produces the sensation of nausea, the feeling to throw up. It indicates damage to the brain and not that of some stomach upset. Kindly recognize the importance of nausea as a clear warning sign of impending heat stroke or heat hyperpyrexia. It is a dangerous and life threatening condition and it demands the cooling of body temperature immediately. In India, we would immediately soak the person in a tub of ice to quickly reduce the core temperature. Taking of fluids is not good enough. Please take precautions to avoid prolonged exposure to heat and it can happen both outdoors and indoors if a person is physically active. I can withstand the scorching heat of desert by simply remaining under the shadow of a little thorny bush and drinking water and stopping physical exertion.


Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 4:06 p.m.

Thanks for that response. Heat exposure causes thermal imbalance in the body. It can manifest in a number of ways such as irritation, restlessness, sleeplessness, thirst, weakness, fainting, and others. Heat exhaustion is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and aversion for food. These symptoms must not be viewed as that of some stomach disorder or digestive problem. It could be early warning sign of cerebral irritation. Very often, heat stroke victim becomes unconscious. I would also like to clarify my above post. In India, we do not have cold water supply from the tap. In hot weather, the tap water is also very hot and it cannot be used to cool the body of a heat stroke victim. We use cold water obtained by melting ice and the cooling of the body has to be carefully monitored by recording rectal temperature. I would again suggest to readers to give attention to the symptom of lack of appetite, nausea, and vomiting as a reaction to heat and as a sign of thermal imbalance in the body.

Ann English

Fri, Jun 10, 2011 : 11:16 p.m.

If nausea really is a warning of heat stroke, I can see why it isn't mentioned in some fiction: to keep it family-oriented. I think Tom Goss was the athletic director of the UM at that time; the wrestler came here from New York State. Korey Stringer of Minnesota (I don't remember if he was a Golden Gopher, a Viking, or both) died from practicing football in the heat.

Sandy Castle

Fri, Jun 10, 2011 : 4:41 p.m.

I had Mr. Bryant as a science teacher in 1978 and he was an excellent teacher. He was a man that never allowed disrespect and always treated kids fairly, but he was a strict disciplinarian. He could run a mean game of dodgeball! RIP Mr. Bryant, you were a motivating force in the lives of many kids at an age where it made a difference!


Fri, Jun 10, 2011 : 3:44 p.m.

What a sad day. You will be missed, Mr. Bryant!


Fri, Jun 10, 2011 : 1:17 p.m.

Mr. Bryant had no problem to run a well disciplined science class back in the day, not so easy to do at Slauson, a place with alot of very troublesome students back then. I still have the tropy I won in his 7th grade science bee. Back in the day a kid didn't get alot of trophys because you actually had to win to get one;)

Atticus F.

Fri, Jun 10, 2011 : 1:03 p.m.

Mr. Bryant was a great teacher/coach, and a positive role model to every child he came into contact with. And he certainly didn't take any bad behavior from his students or wrestlers. There was always a level of deep mutual respect between him and all of his students. Even the most troubled ones were put back on track by Mr. Bryant. He also made Scarlett's wrestling team a legend during the 80's.

Mathew Jones

Fri, Jun 10, 2011 : 11:36 a.m.

He was my 6th grade social studies teacher... I remember that wrestling was a very big passion to him and he would teach us every other day in gym. One day I wasn't paying attention so he made me go up to him with about 50 kids around and he lifted me over his shoulder. That was a very big memory of mine and he was a very great man. We will miss you Mr. Bryant!!


Fri, Jun 10, 2011 : 8:50 a.m.

Does anyone know if funeral arrangments have been made and where?

A Commenter

Fri, Jun 10, 2011 : 5:14 p.m.

The funeral will be in Ann Arbor so that current and former students can attend. Where and when has not yet been determined as far as I know.

Basic Bob

Fri, Jun 10, 2011 : 3:31 a.m.

Mr. Bryant will be remembered as my children's favorite middle school teacher.


Fri, Jun 10, 2011 : 2:29 a.m.

Mr. Bryant was an awesome teacher at Scarlett, I was lucky enough to have him as my 7th grade science teacher. Condolences to his family and friends. RIP Mr. Bryant.


Fri, Jun 10, 2011 : 1:22 a.m.

I had Mr. Bryant for Physical Science, in 8th grade. He was a great teacher, and a great man. I hope he realized the amount of lives he had a positive impact on.

Matt Cooper

Thu, Jun 9, 2011 : 11:28 p.m.

Another great man has slipped away from us. Mr. Bryant will be greatly missed by the thousands of former students whose lives he touched. I was in his science class way back in 1978. He was, as many will tell you, tough, but fair. Rest in peace, Mr. Bryant.