Legendary El Mo football, track coach Chan Castleberry dies at 80

By Greg Clementi, Sports Editor, SoCoNews, July 29, 2021

chan castleberry

Legendary football coaches and brothers Chan (left) and Chip Castleberry gathered with their grandsons Tyler Sword (left) and Lucas Castleberry before the 56th Golden Apple Bowl on April 2. Chan Castleberry passed away on Wednesday at the age of 80. (Photo Greg Clementi)

Iconic El Molino High School educator, football and track coach Chan Castleberry has died at the age of 80 following a long illness, his family announced on Wednesday.

Castleberry joined the El Molino faculty and coaching ranks shortly after the school opened in 1965. He spent the better part of the next three decades teaching math while coaching track and football, establishing a championship legacy in both sports before retiring in 2000.

“When Chan took over as the track coach, El Molino didn’t even have a track, but he somehow made it work,” former El Molino Principal Tom Glover recalled. “The thing I’ll remember most about Chan is the way he’d sing his favorite song, ‘Goodnight Irene’, coming home on the bus after football wins. He’d get the whole team, including the cheerleaders, to sing along with him.”

Part of a dynamic football family along with brother Chip, Chan Castleberry was to the Lions what his younger brother has meant to the Tigers. For years, the pair spent countless Friday nights on opposing sidelines battling for family bragging rights and the coveted Golden Apple Bowl trophy.

Throughout their many years leading rival teams, the brothers remained close.

“Chan was my hero and he was my biggest fan,” Chip Castleberry reflected.

Coaching legacy

Chan Castleberry led the Lions’ football program for parts of three decades, raising the team to an elite status. He was a recipient of both Sonoma County League Coach of the Year and the North Coast Section CIF Outstanding Coach award.

“During his years of coaching El Molino football, Chip coached football at Analy,” his sister-in-law Loretta Castleberry recalled. “Their mom, Lyda always hoped for a tie, which never happened.”

Star player turned coach
Following his family’s move from Texas as a junior in high school, Chan Castleberry joined the Analy football team, where he starred as a halfback on the famed, undefeated 1958 Tiger’s squad, which was later inducted into the inaugural class of the Analy Sports Hall of Fame. Following high school graduation, he attended Santa Rosa Junior College where he played football and ran track. He moved on to San Francisco State where he was captain of the track team, once running the 100-yard dash in a blistering, 9.8 seconds.

The news of Castleberry’s passing on Wednesday spread quickly throughout the El Molino and Analy communities, evoking warm thoughts and fond memories from his many friends and admirers.
“It is certainly a sad day for the El Molino community and, really, the west county community as a whole,” El Molino head football coach Jerod Brown said. “Whether someone supported El Molino or Analy, everybody knew who Chan Castleberry was.”

Fittingly, Castleberry’s final appearance on a high school football field came last April when the Lion’s hosted the Tigers in what was likely the 56th and final meeting between west county rivals. The Lions won the game, 35-27.

Brown reflected on what the victory meant to the Castleberry family.

“Chan’s grandson, Tyler Sword, is a current player in our program and is a remarkable young man,” he said. “I know that winning the last Apple Game meant something to Tyler and his family, particularly given some of the recent health struggles Chan had prior to his passing.”

A memorial will take place on the El Molino football field on Saturday, August 14 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

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