High School Sports

Longtime Sonora High School coach Bud Castle, 88, dies

Former Sonora High School basketball and football coach, and English teacher, Bud Castle, who died at at 88 in Sonora, Calif., on Tuesday, July 1, 2014.
Former Sonora High School basketball and football coach, and English teacher, Bud Castle, who died at at 88 in Sonora, Calif., on Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Chuck Laughlin

As a tail gunner in World War II for the U.S. Army Air Corps, Bud Castle flew missions over Europe and traveled the world.

But his biggest impact was felt close to his home in Sonora, where he raised a family, educated hundreds of students and became a legendary coach, so much so that the town’s high school basketball gym was named in his honor.

“He was an outstanding mentor to me personally,” said Rick Francis, former longtime basketball coach and current Sonora High athletic director. “He was always there for me if there was anything I needed.”

Mr. Castle died at the age of 88 on Tuesday after a short illness. He passed away at Avalon Care Center of Sonora with family at his side.

“He was completely humble,” said his daughter, Cathy Smith. “He would never ask you for anything, but give you anything he could. He loved values and discipline, education and athletics in every form.”

His impact on the court and field, and in the classroom, influenced many in the Sierra Foothills to go into either coaching, teaching or both, his daughter said.

Though described once as a “renaissance man” for his varied interests, Mr. Castle was probably best known as head coach of the varsity basketball team. He led the Wilcats for more than a quarter century after taking over the job in the early 1950s.

He based his principals on UCLA legendary coach John Wooden, and his teams would win often under his forceful, yet measured approach.

“He was a very fundamental coach,” said Francis, who played for Mr. Castle’s 1966 Valley Oak League championship team. “Repetition, repetition, repetition. He took time to break the little things down. He was a great teacher of shooting the ball.”

He didn’t need to shout to get his message across, Francis said. The look in his eyes and honest words would be a simple cause for correction.

“He just had his way,” Francis said. “He was old school.”

Mr. Castle guided a number of talented athletes, including future area coaches Al and Lloyd Hobby, Ben Watson, Dale Clifton, Don Reid and brothers Rick and Roger Francis, to name a few. A number of his English students were influenced to go into education, his daughter said.

“Bud is one of the greatest teachers who ever lived,” Al Hobby once said. “He cares for the people he teaches. He gets respect because he gives respect.”

Mr. Castle also coached the junior varsity football team for years before finally taking over the reins as head coach in the mid-1970s.

“I applied for the job. I really had only two choices: either get out of football or take over the varsity,” he told The Bee in 1977 at the mid-point of his first year. “I was curious whether or not I could do the job. To tell you the truth, it’s tough to assess just how well I’ve done. I still have much to learn.”

Loyal “Bud” Castle was born on Oct. 15, 1925, in Angels Camp to Walter and Edith Castle. In a story about his life as part of the Tuolumne Veterans History Project at memoircenter.com, Mr. Castle told biographer Mary Louis last year that he was named Loyal after his dad’s best friend. His older sister, Dolores, couldn’t pronounce Loyal so she called him “Bubby”. It was later shortened to “Bud.”

Mr. Castle said he spent time in Sonora and Angels camp as a youth before graduating from Sonora High in 1943. From there, he joined the Army Air Corps. According to the biography, he arrived in Italy in January 1945 and later, as a tail gunner, flew missions over Germany and Romania.

“I flew 15 missions in Europe, mostly over Germany,” he told Louis. “My first sortie was along the western front. Then we attacked targets just south of Berlin, and also bombed an airfield runway in Munich. The German planes couldn’t get off the ground because by this advanced stage in the war, they had no gas. We didn’t bother to bomb the planes, which were parked along the sides of the tarmac.”

In December of 1945 with the war winding down, he was discharged and eventually returned to Sonora.

A month later, he enrolled at San Jose State College, where he began as a physical education major and later studied math and English. He also gained a keen interest in William Shakespeare, a topic he would later teach at Sonora High.

“I’ve read all 37 of his plays, some dozens of times, since I’ve taught the subject here in 1954,” he said in the 1977 interview. “My favorite works are Hamlet and King Lear.”

Said his daughter, Carol Laughlin: “He was a good teacher and made Shakespeare interesting, if that’s possible.”

While at San Jose, Mr. Castle said he played on the freshman basketball team. While in Europe, he played basketball whenever he had the chance, and also played fast-pitch softball. He would later become an accomplished pitcher, Francis said.

All the while, he continued “courting” his future wife Betty – who together would have celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary later this month. They were married in July 1947, and a year later would begin a family, which would include children Carol, Bob and Cathy.

He retired from teaching in 1984, and soon after, “Bud Castle Gym” was named.

“There was a big ceremony for him that night,” said Francis, who took over as head coach for Mr. Castle. “I think he was very humbled by it. Very humbled and proud.”

In retirement, he continued following his beloved San Francisco 49ers, attending all their Super Bowls and even buying an RV so that friends and families could go to games together instead of in separate vehicles, Cathy said.

If he wasn’t coaching a sport, he was playing.

“We used to call him a man for all seasons,” Laughlin said. “He went from football to basketball to softball with golf in between.”

And, of course, there was his love for Betty, whom he met in high school.

“He had so much respect and love for her and it went both ways,” Cathy said. “They had a marriage that everyone wishes they could have.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.