When Braden Bell and his Darlington teammates defeated Model in the finals of the Rome Seven Hills Rotary Christmas Tournament back on Dec. 18, the junior had a bit of an idea what kind of tradition he was carrying on for his family but wasn’t completely sure of the scope of it.
It wasn’t until afterwards that Bell, his grandfather, his mother and his aunt along with other members of the Bell and Bragg family realized exactly how special the victory was. The Gold Ball that Bell helped to win continued 60 years and four generations of history for the family that has made a huge mark on local athletics over that time span.
Bell’s great-grandfather, Branch Bragg, started the legacy 60 years ago when he led his Coosa boys basketball team to the Gold Ball Trophy by winning the Christmas Tournament in 1961. Bragg is probably better known locally for his accomplishments on the football field where won 143 games, two state titles and four region titles as the Eagles head football coach from 1956-1974 and has the football field named in his honor.
A few years later, Branch’s son, Bo (Bell’s grandfather), got the chance to win his own Gold Ball trophy when he and his Coosa teammates won the Christmas Tournament in 1972.
Bo’s daughters, Kristen Bragg Bell and Karen Bragg Davis kept the tradition going in the 1990s as each won their own Gold Ball while playing for Model. Kristen, Braden’s mother, was a part of the 1995 Christmas Tournament Championship for the Lady Devils, and Karen won one as part of the 1999 Model Christmas Tournament Championship team.
Everything then finally came full circle last month when Braden, along with his dad Brent who is an assistant coach at Darlington for both basketball and football, defeated Model 46-40 in the Christmas Tournament Championship Game at The Cage at Berry College to write the next chapter of the Bragg-Bell Family legacy.
“I’ve heard stories from my mom and grandparents about everything that our family has done over the years in sports around here, especially the Christmas Tournament,” said Braden. “To be able to win it and add to what our family has done was really cool. I really didn’t know that night when we won it just how much tradition our family had with the Gold Ball. But after talking about it with my mom and granddad, it makes me feel great continuing our family’s legacy. It was just a great experience overall and really big to win. It was one of our team goals, and we played some really good basketball to get it done. Growing up in Rome, you know how important the Christmas Tournament is, and add that to how big it has been for our own family, it was just really special to be a part of.”
Bo Bragg, who went on to play football at Auburn after graduating from Coosa in the 1970s, said it took a little while for everything to sink in for him as well after seeing his grandson win the Gold Ball.
“It just kind of dawned on me that night after the game...my dad won it, I won it my senior year in 1971 and two of my daughters won it at Model,” said Bo Bragg. “Each generation winning it makes it more special. It just kind of all hit me at one time. I wish my dad could’ve been here to watch it. It makes me very proud. Winning the Christmas Tournament is a big deal in Rome. I got to win it my senior year when we had a guy on our team named Mike Glenn. I just remember the old Memorial Gym being packed. That tournament has always been important for this area and for our family. There is so much tradition in it.”
Kristen Bragg Bell was a part of head coach Andy Akin’s Model girls team that won the Gold Ball in 1995, and her sister Karen (Bell Davis) won it a few years later in 1999 under Model head coach Hazel Hall.
“My grandfather (Branch Bragg) started everything back at Coosa, and my dad won one. My sister and I both won one, and to now have my son win the same tournament, it’s just such a special legacy,” said Kristen. “Sports mean so much in our family, and it all goes back to my grandfather. Each generation set those expectations, and to have Braden be the fourth generation in our family to win the tournament means a lot. The Christmas Tournament is a big deal to us every year, and we are so happy to carry on the tradition.”
Braden is now focused on other goals with his Darlington teammates as they have recently started their Region 7-A Private schedule and are looking to make a run at a region title and state tournament berth. But he added with a smile that he has given a thought to a little further down the road also.
“Maybe I’ll have a kid one day that gets to win a Gold Ball and make it five generations for our family — you never know,” said Braden.