Anyone who knows former Murray County head football coach John Zeigler will readily tell you that he is one of the all-time comedic characters in school history. The wickedly sarcastic Zeigler and his equally hilarious wife Jennifer spent many years in the school system as teachers and both are now retired and on to other things.
These days, though, a new generation of Zeigler offspring continue the family tradition as uproariously funny and unique educators. The eldest, Josh, is a special education teacher at Murray High and an assistant football coach. To hear his sister Shelby White tell it, though, he’s out to steal the girls’ golf job from her. That’s the kind of tongue-in-cheek sibling rivalry that helps them keep the atmosphere loose at Murray High where Shelby is head of the English department. Her husband Jake, a standout football player at Murray about a decade ago, also works at the school as a math teacher and football coach. Josh graduated from Murray in 2009 and Shelby and Jake, high school sweethearts, finished in 2011. All three made it their goal to return to the system that nurtured them and to find a home as teachers there and principal Gina Linder is glad to have them.
“John Zeigler was an excellent teacher even with his personality being quite the character,” said Linder, who just oversaw her 12th graduation as Murray’s principal. “Shelby and Josh are living up to that standard of excellence. They both have that smart, witty, personality and are outstanding educators.” Linder also praised Jake as a passionate teacher and someone who almost rivals John Zeigler on the zany character scale. Almost.
Linder said it felt odd when she first started to hire Murray graduates as teachers because it didn’t seem like they should be old enough to do that since she had them in class only a few years before. That was 10 years ago, she said, and now hiring Murray graduates is her priority and a regular occurrence.
“We like to hire our own,” Linder said.
The Zeigler/White crew is definitely part of the Murray tradition.
John and Josh had an interesting father-son dynamic when the elder Zeigler coached the younger as a defensive back at Murray. Their sometimes quarrelsome interactions kept assistant coaches in stitches, but any animosity between them on the field stayed there, Josh said. He learned a lot from his father, he said, and when practice was over, they had a great personal relationship.
“Our relationship is really still the same,” Josh said. “We always told each other we wouldn’t take anything from the field home. When we got home that was never an issue. We didn’t talk football, we talked other things.”
After high school, Josh went to West Georgia and Shelby to the University of Georgia. Shelby began her college career with an interest in physical therapy, but later chose education and her first and only job has been at Murray.
“I called my dad and he said, ‘Shelby, you don’t even like to exercise yourself,”’ she said. “He had a really good point. So, I changed my major to English Education and never looked back. I am very happy now.”
Josh also chose education and spent a few years teaching in Mitchell County before coming back to Murray. They both feel they made the best choice.
“I don’t regret either decision to come back to Murray or to teach,” Shelby said. “When I was at Georgia I wasn’t sure if I wanted to come back. I did my student teaching at Oconee County. It was a wonderful school district, right by UGA, but Mrs. Linder actually called me and called Jake around the same time and said they had a position available. That was something that really stood out to me that the principal called me after four years of being graduated from her school to tell me to apply for a position. For me, that meant a lot and was part of the reason I wanted to come home and work for her.”
Josh and Jake were teammates and Shelby was a cheerleader during Murray County’s difficult run in Class 5A several years ago. They also grew up watching Murray’s successful teams in several sports and their blood truly runs Indian green.
“They bleed green,” Linder said. “They have outstanding character and are excellent role models and the kind of students that you want to come back and teach at your school.”
Josh is married to Stephanie, a Wisconsin native and former West Georgia cheerleader, and they have a 17-month-old daughter, Harper. Shelby and Jake have 15-month-old daughter named Grace. Both siblings plan on making a life in Murray County and raising their children in the place they’re proud to call home. Some people can’t wait to leave their small towns and never look back. Murray has a way of bringing people back, Linder said.
“I think it is such a great community, a close community here at Murray High,” Linder said. “Its students and teachers have a great relationship and I think that makes a huge impact.”