Respected OPS coach, teacher plans to retire


Sydney Jenkins

As senior Nathaniel Otten plays doubles against Buena Vista, Coach Shafer pulls Otten and his partner, freshman Robert Peirce aside to talk strategy. Otten finished the talk and ended the match with an amazing swing. “When I talk with coach during matches, I like to point out my opponents playing style and weaknesses and how I want to attack them,” Otten said.

Honest, respectful, selfless, dedicated, positive and goal-oriented are just a few of the words that seniors Nate Otten and Travis Bolte used to describe their tennis coach, Mathew Shafer, who announced he will be retiring at the end of the 2022-2023 school year after coaching the team since 2003. 

The best part about being a coach is the relationships I’ve developed with my athletes over the years,” Shafer said. “To share my love of sports with young people who are learning, developing, competing and growing is what I was meant to do and I have loved it for a very long time.” 

In 1990, Larry Seitz, a previous coach at Burke hired Shafer to coach the reserve girls’ basketball team when he was still just a college student. It was then that Shafer got to experience leading a team, leaving him eager for his future as a coach. 

“I was super excited to get the opportunity to coach while I was student-teaching at Burke,” Shafer said. “When Mr. Seitz hired me to coach the girls’ reserve basketball team and told me I was going to get paid, I was ecstatic.” 

Since then, Shafer has coached many other sports at the high school and middle school level, but he has primarily been coaching at Burke since 1997, leading the girls’ JV soccer team for six years and the boys’ tennis team for 19.

With all careers there are challenges, and Shafer is no stranger to all the ups and downs. When he first began coaching, he was faced with many obstacles which often made an already complicated job more difficult. 

“My biggest challenge was learning the X’s and O’s of my sports,” Shafer said. “Drills, plays, practice plans, etc. were not readily available [pre-internet] so I had to be much more creative to find answers to questions I had about how to coach games and run practices.” 

As he gained more experience leading a team, he learned from his mistakes and struggles and became a better coach each season. 

“Probably the number one thing I’ve learned from my mistakes is to trust my instincts and go with what I think I should do.” Shafer said.  

With 32 years experience coaching and teaching, and 25 of those years being a Bulldog, Shafer and his wife agreed that it was time for him to retire. 

“After a lot of discussions with my wife, we decided that this year would be a good time to retire from teaching and coaching in OPS.” Schafer said. 

Although the district has had Shafer coaching for over 30 years, the news has still left his teams devastated knowing that their coach will be gone for good. Otten is one of them. 

“It was an honor to be able to have my last year be his last year and go out with him,” Otten said. “I will miss coach’s personality and humor. It was really easy to bond with him and he made practice enjoyable while still being productive.”