Rebuilding a program is never easy, but one Cooke County school is putting its faith in an alumna.
Toni Leverett, a 2004 Callisburg High School graduate, is taking over as the Lady Cats’ new basketball coach. She spent the past three seasons coaching Tioga.
Leverett said taking over at her alma mater means a lot to her.
“I’ve always wanted to go back home,” Leverett said. “I wanted to come coach here whenever I got out of school, but it wasn’t open, so I went to Tioga. The position came open, and I wanted to come back home… I love the kids. I know a lot of them. I know the staff.”
Leverett faces a big challenge. The Lady Cats last made the playoffs in 2019. In the two seasons since, Callisburg has rarely been able to find wins.
Leverett said she is approaching the rebuild by starting with the basics.
“You have to go back to square one on a clean slate and slow down your coaching style to them,” Leverett said. “You’re seriously going to have to go down to fundamentals, and that’s what I’ve been doing. Shooting, dribbling, ball handling, understanding the game.”
While Callisburg will have some players whose focus is basketball, many Lady Cats also play volleyball. Leverett said many of them see volleyball as their top priority and do not have the same passion for basketball.
It is easy to understand why many might choose to focus on volleyball. The Lady Cats won the state championship in that sport in 2018, which was the school’s third-straight trip to the state tournament. The two seasons since have not been quite at that level, but both have resulted in playoff appearances while the girls’ basketball team struggled.
“Callisburg is a volleyball school, and they always have been,” Leverett said. “It is kind of hard right now because volleyball comes first, trying to do that in the summertime. They’re thinking volleyball. They don’t want to really even think about basketball right now. If I can just tell them that it’s ok to be a multi-sport athlete. You can play multiple sports. You can play volleyball and basketball… That’s my biggest struggle right now.”
She said she is hopeful her basketball-only athletes can show the others how much fun basketball can be.
Rebuilds usually take time, and Leverett said it will likely take several years. Still, she said she is optimistic, even about this upcoming season with some other programs in the district expected to also be rebuilding.
“My goal is the playoffs this year,” Leverett said. “That sounds silly, and I know they’re going to laugh whenever I say that, but they take four teams. If we can be top four, we’re in it. I’ve just got to get my players to believe that.”
The 2021-22 UIL girls’ basketball season is tentatively scheduled to begin November 5.