Former Cardinal Hayes, Rice Coach Recalled as ‘Caring Person’

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Floyd “Skip” Branch is being remembered as a caring basketball coach in the CHSAA and Harlem communities.

Branch, a retired bus driver for the New York City Transit Authority, died in a motorcycle accident on the Harlem River Drive Aug. 10. A vigil was held at Cherry Tree Park in Harlem Aug. 12 and funeral arrangements were pending at CNY’s press time.

Branch coached basketball at Rice and Cardinal Hayes high schools, and was the founder and director of the New York City Bombsquad Basketball Classic Inc. in Harlem. He served as the head coach for the Cardinal Hayes freshmen team for one year and as an assistant coach at the Bronx school for several more seasons.

In 2017, the Hayes varsity won the program’s first CHSAA AA city championship since 1990 when former NBA star Jamal Mashburn was a senior on the team.

“He was a gentleman and the best dressed coach I ever saw in my life,” Cardinal Hayes varsity basketball coach Joe Lods told CNY. “He would show up to games with the suit inside the bag and unveil the suit.

“He knew how to win over kids and get the most out of them by being demanding without being too demanding. He talked to the kids all the time about going to college. A lot of former players reached out to me and said, ‘This hurts, coach.’ He was a very positive influence on the kids and I never realized the effect he had on the kids outside of Hayes.”

Branch was a coach of the Varsity B team at Rice, before the Harlem school closed in 2011. He helped the team win a championship in his first season as assistant coach in 2002 and later guided the team to four championship games as head coach.

“Skip was one of the finest men I ever met. He was an exceptional individual,” said Brother William Sherlog, C.F.C., who served as athletic director at Rice, 1996-2011, and is now a religion teacher at Cardinal Hayes. “He just taught by example in so many ways. He was never late, impeccably dressed and had no tolerance for any profanity.”

Branch was best known for his work with the New York City Bombsquad Basketball Classic Inc., a nonprofit basketball program started some 25 years ago to keep kids off the streets. A 15-week, spring/summer basketball league was offered to children ages 6 to 18 at Cherry Tree Park, and a 10-week Fall/Winter Drillz-n-Skillz gave youths ages 6 to 15 the opportunity to learn the game’s fundamentals.

Former Rice High School basketball players, including Kemba Walker of the Boston Celtics, visited Cherry Tree Park to teach the players. Former New York Knick John Wallace and “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts also were among the visitors.

Branch’s wife, Carole Richard Branch, is a volunteer staff member. The couple worshipped at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.

Frank Conroy is the co-president of the Varsity B League and has coached the Varsity B team at Iona Preparatory School in New Rochelle for 24 years. Conroy said he occasionally received phone calls from Branch inquiring how he and his family were doing.

“This was a special man, a caring person whose personality came forth,” said Conroy. “It’s a loss to me and I’m on the periphery. I can’t imagine the people in the community who knew what he was doing for the young people. There, it must be total shock.

“When I first met him, you could tell. I used to say to my wife, ‘He’s different because he really did care.’ You could tell by his voice, eyes and how he spoke to you. It was his personal deep faith and caring personality. You seemed pulled in by it. It’s what drew him to all the people who came in contact with him.”

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