There’s a certain gleam in Jody Berryhill’s eyes when talking about Pine Tree Independent School District. You can tell this is a place near and dear to his heart.
“When I first came to Pine Tree, my goal was to be here two years and get my kids started in school,” Berryhill reflected. “I found out Pine Tree is a great place. We’ve made this our home. Both of my daughters went 12 years here and are proud of their school.”
Berryhill’s two-year stint evolved into a 25-year labor of love. The Florida native had built a reputation as one of the top athletic trainers in the area and he also coached the Pirate golf team.
“I know I didn’t graduate and am not an alum of Pine Tree, but I’m a taxpayer and I’m proud of it,” Berryhill said. “I think we’ve got a great thing here. Not just from the athletic side, but the whole program here is good. That’s why I’m so passionate about this place.”
Berryhill, who was named athletic director last July, hopes to bring a stability to a program a quarter century in flux.
After working under eight different athletic directors and seeing nine head football coaches come and go, Berryhill felt he could step up and offer assistance to a place he’d come to love.
“I’ve seen some people want to make the program succeed and others that may have cared more about one program than another,” he said. “Having worked as an athletic trainer, you’re involved with all the programs and they are all important to you. To make a school successful, everybody’s got to be on the same page.”
Getting everyone on the same page, bringing continuity to the overall athletic program, creating a brand and working for one purpose ignites a fire in the 54-year-old, who was once an athletic trainer for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“You look at these programs that have been successful like Allen, Southlake Carroll and Lake Travis, they are all united,” Berryhill explained. “They all dress the same and there is a common goal involved and there’s not a lot of separation.”
Inking a deal with the sporting apparel company Under Armor on Tuesday was a step in that process of finding the right alignment.
“I really enjoyed coaching golf. That was hard to give up. It was also very rewarding as an athletic trainer to see a kid work his way back from an injury and be successful,” said Berryhill. “But when you see some programs not treated like they should be. Everybody should be top priority. Nobody should be second fiddle when it comes to an athletic program.”
In addition to landing the apparel contract, Berryhill is also bringing back the intramural program in the seventh grade.
His desire is to build participation numbers in both boys and girls sports.
“When I first came to Pine Tree in 1991 we had an intramural program in our seventh grade. There are so many positives here,” he said. “You don’t have to be in a hurry to coach kids. You just have to be passionate about teaching them right.
“If you take a hundred kids and only keep three basketball teams, that’s 45 kids. You’ve just told 55 kids they’re not going to make it. You can’t take away their dream. You’ve got to give them an opportunity. That’s what an intramural program can do.”
Berryhill’s position is that he’s not indebted to any one sport. They all share the same level of significance to him.
“I refer to it as our teams, or when we do this. It’s not the mouse in the pocket. These are our kids and I’m one hundred percent behind every one of them,” said Berryhill.
“That’s the way I want our coaches to feel. These are our kids, not my kids or my team. The whole group is ours.”
The biggest eye-opener Berryhill encountered when moving into the AD’s office was how fast time gets away.
“The time can disappear,” he acknowledged. “There’s a lot of things you have to deal with that people may not understand.”
Berryhill seems to be adjusting to his new responsibilities quite well. He has a vision and isn’t afraid to share that with others.
“Alignment is huge. It doesn’t matter seventh through 12th, but it’s got to be athletics, fine arts and academics. It’s all got to go together, because one feeds off the other,” Berryhill said.
“We want to be representative of our community. We’ve got a great community and we want to give back.”
Berryhill challenged each of his coaches to get their teams involved in some sort of community project.
“The first ones to step up were our boys and girls soccer teams. They have two stretches of highway they’re picking up four times a year,” Berryhill said. “It’s very important as a whole athletic program that we give back to our community.”
It’s really nothing more than changing a culture that’s been locked in a continuum of constant change. Berryhill believes he has the recipe and he intends to see it through to completion.
“I want to be here to see things through. Patience is a big thing and sometimes people want to see things happen overnight. Things don’t happen overnight,” Berryhill explained.
“Stop the revolving door. I told the coaches there’s not a step walking into our field house or athletic department. It’s level ground. You don’t step here to step up somewhere else. This is an awesome place to work.”