LUFKIN, Texas (KTRE) - 42 years ago, Cooper Castleberry was in his 20s and stepped on the field as a referee at Kirbyville for a Friday night matchup between Kirbyville and Buna. At the time Castleberry had no clue where his choice to become a football official would take him.
On Friday, Castleberry will step on the field one last time in the Pinstripe Bowl to officiate the game between Michigan State and Wake Forest.
“It has been such a great career and I have seen and done things that I never 25 years ago, 42 years ago thought I would experience,” Castleberry said. “To end your career at Yankee Stadium is a sweet deal.”
For the past 17 years, Castleberry has been in the Big 12 and has elevated himself to one of the top officials of the league.
“I loved doing games at Texas A&M,” Castleberry said. Their is not an environment in college football like that one. I loved doing the Texas, OU game. “It’s the only game that I have worked where the crowd is 50 50 and somebody is happy and mad every single snap."
Being a Big 12 official has taken him to other conferences games as well.
“I have done the Navy - Air Force game and that one was special,” Castleberry said. “The players showed so much respect. They were outstanding and if everyone acted like them there would be no wars.”
Castleberry has been part of two National Championship games which would lead you to think he would see those as his favorite but a non-conference game in Waco three years ago sticks out as the most memorable game he has been part of.
“When people ask me about the games that are the most memorable, they are expecting national championships which I have had two," Castleberry said. “They are expecting Texas-OU. They are expecting stuff like that, but we had SMU at Baylor three years ago and my son was my back judge in his very first Big 12 game. That is the most special game I have ever been part of."
Castleberry is still part of the local chapter of high school officials and tries to do his part in growing the pool of officials to use on Friday nights. It is a challenge but he feels like he needs to not forget the joy he found in officiating high school games.
“I do reflect back to Kirbyville and to Crockett and Alto and Groveton when it all first began," Castleberry said. “I encourage these athletes that once they are done playing to get into officiating and go as far as me or even further to the NFL."
Castleberry will still be involved with the Big 12. He is set to move to either the replay booth or be asked to judge and grade younger officials.