If during the past 30 years or so your child went through Piner Middle School in Sherman, chances are he or she ran into the longtime coach Matt Casselberry. August marked Casselberry’s 29th year at the school.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been that long,” smiled Matt Casselberry.
Most students will remember Casselberry as the school’s physical education (P.E.) ‘coach,’ but he started at PMS as a history teacher. In fact, he didn’t take over the gym until 1998. Casselberry’s been an athletic coach – assistant and head coach - for the school since 1991.
“When I got into education, I really wanted to coach,” explained Casselberry. “A few years after I started, the PE position came open and the principal asked me if I wanted it. I took it right then.”
So, the young teacher, who had student taught at Sulphur Springs before coming to Piner, moved into the gym. He’s never looked back and is glad that he has spent his career at one school: Piner.
“I like the PE part; it seems like the only thing I’ve done here,” said Casselberry. “Once you get started with something, after awhile, it seems like you’ve always done it. I like moving around; I don’t want to stand still. I choose activities that get them (students) moving; that are fun and enjoyable.”
Casselberry, with his ever-present whistle, noted that he likes doing exercises, conditioning, agility drills and games. He gets involved with his five co-ed PE classes each day.
“I enjoy the kids having fun; I like it all,” he said.
According to Casselberry, he estimates that he has had some 4,000 students in PE class over the last 29 years. Each year, he has had at least 150 students in his program.
“I enjoy getting to know the students; their likes and dislikes,” said Casselberry. “We get to talk about a lot in PE; and we get to have some fun, too.”
It’s the building relationships that is obvious to his colleagues and administration at Sherman schools.
“Matt’s invested in the community; and he does that through his work at Piner,” said J.D. Martinez, the district’s athletic coordinator. “The lives impacted by Coach Casselberry is significant. He’s doing a great job; everyday, he’s building relationships with these kids.”
Martinez, also the high school football head coach, noted that Casselberry mentors the students, too.
“Just the football kids (not counting basketball and track programs) coming up to us at high school have been impacted by him,” explained Martinez. “Is huge for our program and district; and to think he’s been doing it for so many years. There are thousands of them (students). What a legacy.”
In addition to his Piner duties, Casselberry also films the ‘end zone angle’ during varsity football games. He has also ‘scouted’ opponent schools over the years for the Bearcats; traveling to see those opponents play other schools.
“Matt does an incredible job,” concluded Martinez. “He is great for our program and for Sherman, too.”
Rex Gibson, who held the Piner gym job in the 1970s and 80s, retired in 1990, but drove the athletic bus for SISD for an additional 10 years. He crossed paths with young Casselberry and his teams over those years.
“I always liked him; he’s a good person and a good coach. Those go ‘hand-in-hand’,” said Gibson. “On trips, he always took care of them (the players) and made sure they were ready for the game.”
Speaking of influence, Casselberry credits his parents for his interest in education. His mother taught English at Commerce High School and was business manager for the Commerce district until she retired; his father held a principal’s certification. Education was always around his family growing up, he noted.
“Going into the educational setting was a natural for me,” said Casselberry. “And then, we lived in Commerce, with East Texas State University (now Texas A&M-Commerce) there; it is such a big part of the community. Education was just a part of life where I grew up.”
Casselberry had been Piner’s head football coach – for 18 years – and eighth grade coordinator, but now is an assistant coach in football, basketball and track; and has been for the past three years. The change hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for the job. (He was also an assistant when he taught history.)
“It’s enjoyable for me; I get to be with the kids. I haven’t even thought about retirement,” smiled Casselberry. “There’s no timetable for me; it hasn’t seemed like I’ve worked at all these 29 years. And I’ve enjoyed being here; Piner’s a great place to be.”
On a typical day in PE in Coach Casselberry’s class, the students start out with stretching and exercise. Then, push-ups and sit-ups; and finally, some conditioning and agility drills. Then, the class will play a game or do an activity, such as dodge ball, basketball or volleyball.
“I want to do movement games; get them active,” explained Casselberry. “I want them to be involved.”
On that subject, Casselberry is adamant. In this day and age of video games and devices, it is crucial.
“It’s important to teach them to be active during each day; they get few opportunities to get out and play and move around. If it’s not school, it’s video games or texting. These kids need to be playing; and engaged in physical activity. It’s important for their well-being. My motto: Be Active!”
The state of Texas requires all students have one year of physical education in the seventh grade; and it is an elective in the eighth grade.
“The gym is the only place in school they can be active, so why not do it?” said Casselberry.
Over the years, Casselberry has had some (now) famous students in class or on the field including Charlie Johnson (Indianapolis Colts), Kyle Crick (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Chris Gittens (New York Yankees AA team in Trenton, NJ).
“They all were great students; smart players and great guys,” said Casselberry, of his former charges.
Other special people have come through his program – one recently – including his own son, Dane.
“The past two years have been so fun with Dane here in football and basketball,” said Casselberry of his eldest child. “It’s been great with him here; all the years have been fun, but these past two have been special for me.”
Casselberry noted that his daughter, Dru, is now in the seventh grade at Piner; and his youngest daughter, Dime, is at Dillingham Intermediate School. Other notable students included his principal’s son for a couple of years.
“My son, Eli, really enjoyed his time with Coach Casselberry,” said Amy Porter, who is starting her third year as Piner’s principal. “I’ve known Matt for almost 30 years here in Sherman schools; and it was like a circle of life being completed when my son was here.”
According to Porter, a former teacher and district administrator, Casselberry holds a special place in the lives of his students; and it’s easy to see every day.
“He’s a positive role model; and builds good relationships with these kids,” said Porter. “He works with them as a coach; and supports other staff members throughout the year.”
In addition, Porter noted that Casselberry does the same thing in the community apart from the school.
“He’s part of our community; former athletes see him around town and want to talk to him. They come to visit him,” said Porter. “You can see that he is building lasting relationships with these kids. He does more than just teaches a game; he helps them become better people. He shapes our community.”
Casselberry shows some humility; and doesn’t ‘know about all that,’ but it is important to him to see his students succeed in life after Piner and after their time in school.
“I like seeing the kids who are adults now; and being successful in life. Some of their kids are coming to Piner now and that’s cool,” said Casselberry. “I’ll see them at ball games; around town, and they will be doing what adults are suppose to be doing. And I’ll think, ‘They used to be in PE with me.’ It really is cool. I like seeing them being good citizens in our community.”
Casselberry admits he didn’t think he’d be a teacher when he was growing up, but is so glad that he is one now; and for all the things that have happened over the years and the mentor teachers he had.
“I have good days and bad days, but the good ones far outnumber the bad ones,” admitted Casselberry. “It’s never seemed like work; it’s been absolutely great. I’m so glad to have had this opportunity.”