Castle was born in Angels Camp on Oct. 15, 1925 to Edith and Walter Castle, Sr., and was raised by his beloved grandmother Alice Bane. He moved to Sonora after Bane’s death when he was 12, and graduated from Sonora High School in 1943.
Soon after his graduation, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served in Europe in World War II. After his service, he attended San Jose State and married the love of his life, Betty House, in 1947. The couple started a family a year later, and together had three children: Carol, Bob and Cathy.
Castle earned his teaching credential while at San Jose State and returned to Sonora as a student-teacher in 1950.
He became a full-time instructor and coach a year later, and eventually, became head of the English department. He was an avid reader of William Shakespeare, which he shared with his students.
Castle, who borrowed his philosophy from Art McGrath, coached football for 31 seasons and was in charge of the junior varsity squad for 26 of those years before being named the varsity head coach in 1977, where he served four more years.
In his 26 years at the helm of the “B” team, Castle went 149-74-13, which included six VOL championships and two undefeated seasons.
Summerville head coach Ben Watson, who played both sports under Castle at Sonora High in the mid-1970s, idolized the legendary figure growing up in Tuolumne County.
“The way he taught the game, the way he taught in the classroom, the way he carried himself, he had very high expectations,” said Watson, who coaches basketball, football and softball for the Bears. “He was very strong willed, but at the end of the day, you knew he loved you. He always made that clear. He always made it known how important you were. He went out of his way to let you know he was in your corner. As I got older and got into coaching, I realized that, the influence he had on me and the hundreds of other coaches. He was what sports in Tuolumne County was all about for a long, long time. Very seldom do you hear the words legend come around, but at least in my world, there’s never been anybody that I ever met that came close to the impact that he has made in people’s life athletically.”
As a first-time varsity head football coach in his inaugural 1977 season, the Sonora gridders compiled a 6-1-3 record and enjoyed their best season in a decade. The Wildcats were just one win away from capturing the VOL title. For Castle’s first-year success, he was voted co-coach of the year.
“He molded so many kids at the football level for years,” Francis, 66, said. “They were prepared to play.”
On the hardwood, Castle spent 25 years as the varsity boys’ basketball head coach before stepping down from his post after the 1976 season to give way for Francis. The soft-spoken head coach stressed fundamentals and helped lead the Wildcats to numerous wins and championships.
“He just had a special way of being with kids,” Francis said. “His athletes, he can get his point across very well without a lot of screaming and hollering. ... He was so solid. He was a very humble coach. He was just a very studious coach. He really understood the different parts of the game. He can watch a game and tell you a couple things.”
Watson, under the direction and tutelage of Castle, set a single-game, school-record 43 points as a senior and helped the Wildcats to a second-place finish in Castle’s final year as coach.
“I just didn’t play for myself, I played for him,” Watson said. “Mostly everybody I knew played for him. You wanted to do well, but you didn’t want to let him down. He was a great man. A great teacher. He was my idol. I just idolized the guy. He walked on water to me. He was bigger than life. He was an incredible man. He’s probably the reason that I got into teaching and coaching.”
Watson, 55, is just one of many student-athletes that Castle inspired and touched during his reign as head coach at Sonora High. A few others to have followed his path either as a coach or teacher include former Wildcat administrator Roger Francis, Calaveras JV basketball coach Dale Clifton, Al and Lloyd Hobby, longtime Tuolumne County educator and coach Don Moore, and Castle’s grandson and Summerville High English teacher Greg Smith.
Smith, 31, is also an assistant coach for the Columbia College Claim Jumpers men’s basketball program.
“He’s the one who always told me I’d be a good teacher and coach,” Smith said. “I ended up teaching English originally and coaching basketball just like he did. He’s always supported me no matter where I was. He was a really proud grandfather and that really came first. I wanted to do other things, but he was resolute for a very long time that, that was what I would be good at. I denied it for a very long time, and it came back around and he was right. My grandpa was always encouraging.”
Moore, 71, starred at Sonora High from 1957-61, and went on to have a two-year hoops career at UC Davis after playing at Cal Berkeley and Modesto Junior College.
After leaving Cal because of academic problems, Castle helped Moore land a roster spot at MJC before transferring to UC Davis, where Moore earned a degree in English, and later became principal at Tenaya Elementary School.
“As everybody would tell you, he was just a fantastic coach,” Moore said. “He probably made the biggest life impact on me in terms of being an English teacher. He made English a lot of fun. I looked forward to his class every time. Because of him, I studied and got a degree in English. He had a direct impact on me.”
Castle retired from teaching in 1984, but the imprint he left behind at Sonora High is still in tact.
For Castle’s commitment, dedication and 34 years of service to Sonora High, the on-campus Wildcat gymnasium was named in his honor on Jan. 24, 1986 during a special ceremony.
After his retirement, Castle went into construction, but was always lured back to sports as a spectator and supporter. He followed Smith closely after he secured a coaching position at Sonora and Summerville highs.
“He made almost all of our games,” said Francis, who put away the head coaching clipboard after the 2012-13 season. “Many times after he retired, he would come into the locker room after the game and talk to our kids, and tell them that they did a great job. That was always a real thrill for our kids.”
Outside of coaching, Castle was a prolific fast-pitch softball player, a notable golfer, a consistent lead bowler and a diehard San Francisco 49ers fan. He was a member of the first class that was inducted into the Sonora High Hall of Fame and was the first male to be recognized in the Tuolumne County Softball Hall of Fame.
Smith said the Castle family is planning to hold a celebration of life at the building that bears Castle’s name on Aug. 16.
“Over the years, kids would ask me, ‘Who is that guy?’ ” Francis said. “And I would tell them; he left a very positive mark. I think he’ll always be remembered. That’s why the gym was named after him.”