Every morning around 6:45 a.m., Grant Palmer begins his workday with the same routine. He parks his car outside of Hal Peterson’s gym, walks across the gym’s old floor, taking a moment to appreciate the mural of the ferocious, charging buck, and enters his office inside the Spikes’ locker room.
Thirty-eight years of coaching haven’t diminished his enthusiasm for everyday life. Palmer loves his walk across Peterson’s gym, often reminiscing on the glory days when it served as the home court for Jim Reid’s state championship basketball teams. But mostly, he loves being a track and football coach at Peterson, treasuring his everyday opportunity to mold middle-school players into future Tivy athletes.
After all, there are a few people in this world who love Tivy more than Palmer, and even fewer who have done more to contribute to the athletic department’s success during the last four decades. Palmer always wanted to be a coach, but his best friend in high school scoffed at the idea.
“You want to be a coach?” He sarcastically intoned. “They don’t make any money.”
So, Palmer initially decided to pursue a career in pharmacy. But during his junior year at Texas A&M, he switched his major to his first love, physical education. He didn’t care whether or not he was going to make a lot of money in his life. He just wanted to be a coach, and he wanted to coach at his Alma Mater.
He interviewed with Peterson after graduating from college, beginning his coaching career in 1980.
“The rest is history,” Palmer said.
Indeed. He’s enjoyed stints at both Peterson and Tivy during his career, coaching Tivy safeties in the Mark Smith era.
Needless to say, Tivy athletic director David Jones is glad Palmer decided to go into coaching. So are all of his former players.
“His impact is felt throughout the district and through years and years of Tivy athletes,” Jones said. “Just because of the type of person he is and the passion he has.”
What makes Palmer such a beloved coach? It’s difficult to explain because there are so many answers to the question. He’s charismatic, the type of coach who can speak for 30 minutes and still hold his players’ attention. He’s in great shape, often jogging with his cross country players during warmups. He’s passionate about Tivy, often tearing up whenever he talks about the school’s motto “Tivy Fight Never Dies” and what it means to him.
But perhaps his greatest coaching asset is how much he loves his players, and how he uses that love to inspire them to unlock their potential.
The Kerrville Daily Times interviewed eight of Palmer’s former players for this story, including several who will graduate from Tivy tonight at Antler Stadium. Every single one shared different ways Palmer affected their lives.
“Coach Palmer is a great role model and the biggest Tivy fan I’ve ever met,” said senior Trey Layton, a former Tivy football player who will attend Harvard University in the fall. “The impact he has had on the other seniors and me goes beyond coaching in football. He shared his love for life with each and every one one of us.”
Before she met Palmer, Tivy senior Paige Butler never considered herself a good athlete.
She learned at any early age that she was never going to succeed at any sport involving a ball; she realized she wasn’t fast enough to be a sprinter. If she wanted to be an athlete in high school, she had no choice but to become a long-distance runner.
Palmer, though, was the first person to believe in Butler’s athletic gifts, the first to encourage her to continue running. He congratulated her after every meet, no matter how she finished. He grew excited every time she broke a personal record.
Any time Butler ran past Palmer in practice or at a meet, he always hollered the same refrain, “You got this Paiger! Go get the girl in front of you!”
Butler started to believe in herself, too, winning 85 medals during her track career. She advanced to state in cross country as a sophomore. During her senior year, she won the 1600 meter race at the District 26-5A meet with a time of 5:19.23, one second shy of the Tivy school record. Today, she will graduate with honors and will attend Texas A&M.
“His constant encouragement showed me that I could always do better than I thought,” Butler said. “He taught me how to work hard and believe in myself. I’m eternally grateful for that.”
Tivy senior Kirkland Connally has a screenshot of the poem “The man in the Glass” saved to his phone, admitting that its message has helped him navigate the sometimes turbulent years of adolescence.
Palmer introduced Peter Dale Wimbrow Sr.’s poem to Connally and his peers when they were in middle school, instructing them to memorize the four-stanza poem for his “teen leadership” class that he teaches at Peterson.
He had a reason for the assignment, as Wimbrow extols the virtues of self-worth in his poem, at one point musing, “You’ve passed your most difficult, dangerous test if the man in the glass is your friend.”
Ultimately, Palmer used the poem as a tool to inspire his students believe in their own potential. It sure helped Connally. During his senior year, he earned a starting spot on Tivy’s offensive line, helping the Antlers (11-2) advance to the regional finals for the second straight year. He also made the academic all-state team and will attend TCU in the fall.
“He taught me how to be a man, and how to care and love for others,” Connally said. “He taught me the steps to like what I see when I look in the mirror.”
Colton Palmer contemplates the question.
Does Grant Palmer have a flaw?
It’s a necessary inquiry. During his 38 years of coaching in Kerrville, Grant has sometimes exuded a “too-good-to-be-true” vibe. None of the 12 people who interviewed for this story had a single negative thing to say about Grant. Instead, they all gushed (both on and off the record) about how much they loved Kerrville’s long-time coach.
But surely, he has at least one shortcoming that he hides from the public, one that only his family knows about?
After silently considering the question, his son responds with a joke.
“If anything, that might be a good question for my mom (Beth Palmer),” Colton said with a chuckle. “His greatest strength is almost a weakness: He’s too real, too authentic. It kind of comes off as too honest sometimes. I am not tooting my dad’s horn, but it’s funny, he can miss out on social norms and come across as brutally honest sometimes.”
In other words, the genuine personality that the public sees isn’t a facade. Just like everyone else, Colton raves about how much he loves his father during his interview.
“It’s easy for him to be really passionate and really wear his emotions on his sleeve because he just lives right,” Colton said. “He lives the way you are supposed, makes good decisions and works hard. … I think that’s why so many people are drawn to him.”
He is also unapologetically himself. Many years ago, Grant and Beth took their three children (Ty, Colton and Jillian) on a family vacation to Disney World. Within 20 minutes of their arrival at the park, Grant had climbed onto a stage and was dancing along with Disney’s professional performers during a show.
“At the time, it was kind of embarrassing,” Colton said. “I was 12 years old or something. But looking back, I’m like, ‘My dad is freaking cool.’”
Grant continued to keep his three kids entertained during their childhood. Since their father was Tivy’s safeties coach, Colton and Ty practically lived in the field house, building relationships with everyone on Tivy’s coaching staff.
When Grant started Kerrville’s summer track program in 2002, Colton and Ty were the only participants. It didn’t matter; they still had a blast with their dad. Every day, Grant trained his two sons on the track at Antler Stadium. They traveled across the country together to compete in junior olympic events.
“It was just something he wanted to do because I was passionate about it,” Colton said.
And on March 5, 2019, Grant received another opportunity to touch a young person’s life, when Colton’s wife, Caitlin Palmer, gave birth to Hayden Palmer, giving Grant his first grandchild.
Recently, Colton and Caitlin enjoyed a vacation, leaving their daughter with Grant and Beth. For several days, Hayden received a taste of her grandfather’s enthusiasm for life.
“To see him as a grandpa is really cool,” Colton said. “It’s almost like he is a little kid again. He’s full of energy, runs around with her and takes her to the park.
“I tell him every Christmas that I get more and more like him as I get older. It’s the best thing to ever happen to me.”
Tivy senior Karson Valverde doesn’t really have a favorite Palmer story. He’s just enjoyed the entire Grant Palmer experience during his time at Tivy.
He loves everything about him. He loves his passion for coaching; he loves how Palmer willingly shares his Christian faith with others; he even loves Palmer’s raspy voice.
But what he loves most about Palmer is that he doesn’t show any favoritism toward his players. He loves them all equally, and holds them all to the same standard.
“He pushed you to the limit and wanted you to become a better player,” Valverde said. “No matter if you were a 1st-string player or a 5th-string player.”
In 2011, Palmer tried to retire from coaching. He really did.
But just before the start of the 2012-13 school year, he received a call from Gary Jones, who was the Peterson athletic coordinator at the time. One of his coaches had recently resigned, Jones explained to Palmer, and he was wondering if Palmer was interested in filling the vacant position.
It was supposed to be just a one-year deal. On Friday, Palmer finished his seventh year coaching at the middle school. When he agreed to return to coaching, it had been almost 30 years since he taught at Peterson; he had forgotten how much he had cherished coaching at the middle-school level.
“We have got the greatest kids at KISD in all of America,” Palmer said. “They make it so enjoyable to coach and teach.”
It’s the main reason why Palmer doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon. He’s having too much fun building relationships with his players at Peterson, and then following their journeys when they move on to Tivy.
And yes, he plans on being at Antler Stadium today at 8 p.m., eager to watch his former players take their first steps into adulthood.
“You can only play sports for so long,” Palmer said. “But it does my heart good to see (Tivy alumni) make their mark in the world and be successful.
“It’s just special here. Tivy is a special place.”