Wood's Casey remembered for his character, success

jcaseyIn the winter of 1962-63, Danny Hoopes was a sophomore who only dressed to play for home games for the James Wood High School boys’ basketball team, but he had a unique moniker.

Then in his final year as the team’s head coach, Jim Casey had dubbed Hoopes “Hoop Jr.” When Hoopes questioned it, Casey told him to look it up. Hoop Jr. was the name of the horse who won the 1945 Kentucky Derby while being ridden by legendary jockey Eddie Arcaro.

Hoopes — who would go on to serve four years in the U.S. Army and spent 35 years serving Winchester and Frederick County through the 26th District Court Service Unit before retiring in 2008 — would hear the nickname “all the time” from Casey from that point forward. He loved it.

“When he has nicknames for you like that, it makes you feel closer to him I think,” Hoopes said. “It was interesting playing for him, and rewarding.

“Years gone by after high school, I would see Coach out someplace, and he’d say, ‘Hoop Jr., how you doing?’ He always remembered.”

That particular nickname for Hoopes couldn’t have been more fitting. When it came to James Wood athletes and horses, he did everything he could to help them reach each their potential.

A native of Boyce and 32-year employee at James Wood, James “Jim” William Casey died at 92 on Jan. 8 at Jefferson Medical Center in Ranson, W.Va. A viewing service for Casey was held on Monday at Enders & Shirley Funeral Home in Berryville.

Casey worked at James Wood from 1954-86, during which time he was a teacher and highly successful head coach in basketball, football and baseball before taking on the role of athletic director, a position he held from 1967-86.

Casey’s post-scholastic career as horse owner and trainer featured more than 1,200 wins, including a record 35 West Virginia Breeders’ Classic victories as a trainer. Casey moved from Winchester to Charles Town, W.Va., in 2002 after acquiring 146 acres in Jefferson County that he and wife Eleanor, who died in 2005, named Taylor Mountain Farm.

Jimmy Omps — who also began working as an athletic director in 1967, staying in that role at Handley until 1995 — said the time he spent with Casey made a lasting impact.

“He was just a great friend and a great human being,” Omps said.

“He was a gentleman,” Hoopes said. “He was a great guy.”

Casey’s last victory in the Breeders’ Cup series, which began in 1987, came in 2019. One of his three children, James Michael Casey — a doctor of veterinary medicine who lives in Laurel, Md. — said that his father remained active with his horses up until his passing. James M. Casey said Jim died two days after complications from a fall that broke his femur.

“His mind stayed pretty good right up until the very end,” James M. Casey said. “He had a very good life. It’s very sad to lose him, and you really can’t prepare yourself for that. But he had a very good life.”

James M. Casey said his brother John, who has handled much of the responsibility at Taylor Farm in recent years, will now take over operations of Taylor Farm completely.

Before Casey left an indelible impression in the world of horse racing, he left a lasting mark at James Wood.

Casey was a multi-sport star who graduated from Boyce Agricultural High School in 1947. Omps said he remembers watching Casey run on the cinder track at Handley. Omps — a 1953 Handley graduate — said Casey could run the 100-yard dash in close to 10 seconds. The Most Outstanding Performer awards at James Wood’s annual H. Brian Landes Apple Blossom Track & Field Invitational are named after Casey.

Casey then attended William & Mary and played baseball, ran track and served as a varsity football manager. After a two-year stint in Germany with the U.S. Army, the physical education major returned to the United States and was eventually hired to teach and help coach the football team in January of 1954.

The 1954-55 school year would mark the beginning of Casey’s illustrious run of success as a head coach in three sports.

In baseball, Casey went 47-25 from 1955-61 and never had a losing record. In football, Casey guided the Colonels to a 35-15 record from 1962-66, including the school’s first perfect 10-0 season in 1964.

Casey was considered to be at his best while coaching the basketball team. In the first five years after James Wood opened its doors in 1950-51, the Colonels had a record of 10-86, including 0-20 in 1954-55, the last year before Casey took over. James Wood went 132-29 and won or shared five district titles in eight seasons under Casey.

His only losing season came in his first year of 1955-56 (6-11), and his teams won at least 15 games in each of his remaining seasons. The 1960 team went 21-1 and won a regional title.

Millbrook High School’s gymnasium is named after Casey.

Before Omps took over Handley’s head basketball coaching duties in 1967, he was a Judges assistant coach who went up against Casey’s James Wood teams.

“He knew the rules,” Omps said. “If you were officiating [one of his games], you better know the rules real well. One of the things from Jimmy that really stands out is he was very intelligent.

“When you consider all the sports, and what their coach can do, to me, he was the ultimate coach of everything. He knew it all.”

Hoopes couldn’t agree more.

“He was such a great strategy coach,” said Hoopes, who was also a football statistician at James Wood for Casey. “He was the type of coach who could tonight take his team and beat yours, and tomorrow night take your team and beat his. He wasn’t a real vocal man, but he was very confident.”

Omps said Casey’s intelligence stood out in numerous ways, and he’s hardly alone in that opinion. Don Shirley — James Wood’s principal from 1975-1999 — said having Casey to talk to for so many years was comforting.

“He was kind of a sounding board for me a lot of times,” Shirley said. “If I had things on my mind and that kind of thing, he was a good listener, and he usually gave me pretty sound advice. I missed that part greatly after he retired.”

Casey’s temperament also served him well in a lot of areas.

“He never really got really upset about anything,” James M. Casey said. “He didn’t get too high when he was doing real good. He didn’t get too low when he was doing real bad. He could kind of take things in stride.”

The impact of Casey’s days at James Wood remain strong. That was evident in 2020, when James M. Casey and his father attended the 50th anniversary of the football team’s 1970 Group AAA state championship season.

The Colonels secured that title in part because Casey had figured out that if James Wood and Handley tied in their season finale — both teams were 9-0 — it would be the Colonels who advanced to the playoffs instead of the Judges based on having a superior Virginia High School League power rating.

James Wood scored a touchdown with 2:09 left to cut its deficit against Handley to 22-21, and Casey assured Barr that the team did not have to go for two points. James Wood kicked the extra point, and the game eventually ended in a 22-22 tie. The Colonels went on to beat William Fleming 25-6 in the Northwest Region title game and were declared state champs after finishing as Group AAA’s only undefeated regional champion.

“It was a very nice event,” said James M. Casey, a 1976 James Wood graduate who served as a team manager on the 1970 team. “He knew all the people well.”

Shirley said Casey’s love for James Wood and the people who were part of the school was always evident.

“Jimmy was one of the most loyal persons that I can think of while I was at James Wood,” Shirley said. “He was totally James Wood. He remembered everything. He remembered the kids, and who did what in what game. It was just unbelievable.

“He was just a great individual. He cared about James Wood and the kids, and the things that went on. He was a friend and a colleague and someone I trusted and relied on a lot.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at
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