BURNT HILLS – Matt Shell has announced his resignation as Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s varsity football coach after a 21-season run in which he turned the Spartans into a Section II heavyweight.
Shell told his team he would be stepping away Sunday at its season-ending banquet, and he does so with a resume that includes 14 Section II title-game appearances, 10 area championships, and a state title in 2012.
“I am super proud of what we did,” the 52-year-old Shell said. “I never ever thought it would be what it is. When I came in I wanted to put competitive teams on the field and teach kids. I wanted to help them go from point A to point B as best I could.”
Shell’s Spartans reached point B early in his career and kept on climbing under his tutelage. Four times his teams reached the Carrier Dome in Syracuse and played in Class A New York finals.
“The consistency and success Matt developed at Burnt Hills over the past 20-plus years was truly amazing,” said former Troy football coach Jack Burger, whose Flying Horses played the Spartans numerous times. “He set the bar very high not only for his predecessor but all the coaches in Section II. Matt was also a tremendous role model for all the young men he has coached.”
Those young men have a special place in Shell’s heart, and he can easily rattle off names from each of his teams.
“Everything has to work together. We had great kids. Hard working kids. Talented kids,” Shell said. “I think continuity in our coaching staff was also a big thing. You always want to surround yourself with good people. That’s a big piece.”
Shell, who previously coached lower-level basketball at Burnt Hills and is still involved with its track program, will continue to teach physical education at the high school.
“I felt it was time,” said Shell, whose teams put together a 176-44 record starting in 2002. “I am content with everything. I am happy with the way things turned out and now’s the time to let someone else steer the ship. I still love the game. It’s all I’ve known for a long time.”
Shell began coaching at the age of 22, and spent time with freshman, JV and varsity teams at Burnt Hills, the JV team at Shaker, and with the Lebanon Valley College team as its quarterback and wide receivers coach before taking the top position with the Spartans.
“I was the boys varsity [basketball] coach when he first started out. We go way back,” said Gary Bynon, a middle school phys ed teacher who coaches girls’ varsity volleyball and basketball at Burnt Hills. “When you think about Matt Shell, you think about class. What he does for kids. He’s been such an amazing part of our program at BH-BL and football coaching statewide.”
Shell prevailed on the field and off of it. Both he and his son Jacob are cancer survivors, and Jacob’s arduous and winning battle was the impetus for the not-for-profit Shellstrong Foundation that since 2011 has been raising funds to fight the disease.
“What Matt and [his wife] Kim have done for people in our community is unbelievable,” Bynon said.
“We are still going strong. 100 percent. There are still things we do,” Shell said of the Shellstrong Foundation. “We’re still donating.”
Jacob Shell was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2009 at the age of 8, and following numerous surgeries was declared cancer free the following year. The elder Shell had a tumor removed from his tongue and lymph nodes removed from his neck in 2005, and in 2006 he was declared cancer-free. That fall, he guided Burnt Hills to its first of 10 Section II Class A championships, with the others coming in 2008 through 2012, 2016 through 2018 when Darien LaPietro quarterbacked each one, and 2021.
Before Shell took the varsity post, Burnt Hills had reached only one Section II championship game, back in 1985 when the Spartans lost to CBA.
“Success year after year is so difficult to achieve,” Bynon said.
“You can’t imagine something like that happening when you’re starting out,” Shell said of those Super Bowl trips.
Shell’s 2018 edition beat Queensbury for the Section II title on a night when he reached 150 career victories. His 100th win in 2013 was a four-overtime classic against Troy that was decided on a Josh Quesada TD run.
“Tons of games stick out,” said Shell, who had Jason LaPietro as an assistant for his entire varsity coaching tenure and Shawn Kline for 20 of those years. “Tons of plays stick out.”
Shell’s teams appeared in nine straight Section II finals from 2006 through 2014. During that magnificent run his Spartans reached four state championship games, and after title-game setbacks against Sweet Home in 2008 and 2009 and another against Maine-Endwell in 2011, they prevailed in 2012 by knocking off Sweet Home 40-20.
“For five years we just had a group of kids that wouldn’t be denied,” said Shell, whose 2010 team lost in the state semifinals. “One year fed into another.”
Shell’s teams had eight seasons with 10 wins or more, and only one of them in 2003 ended with a losing record. This year’s team finished 6-3 after a Section II Class A semifinal loss to Averill Park.
“When you played against a Matt Shell team you played against a coach that is creative, put his players first, and had respect for the game and the people he coached against,” Bynon said. “That’s Matt Shell. He is the consummate high school football coach.
“To try to replace him is going to be so hard because of the person he is.”
Bynon won one of his eight state titles the same season Shell finally got his in 2012. All-state selections Ryan McDowell, Eric Dillon and Nick Marschesiello were among the stars on that 12-1 football squad. Shell’s large cast of all-state selections also included Paul Layton, Dylan Wydronkowski, Dan Maynard, Jake Stanko, Joe Messare, Chris Iwinski, Evan Nusbaum, Mike Sbuttoni and Tim Horan among others.
“I built a nice relationship with John Faller, the Sweet Home coach,” Shell said. “After we won the championship he said, ‘I knew you were going to get it. I just wish it wasn’t against us.’ ”
Shell was himself a star receiver at SUNY Cortland and Gloversville High, where in 1987 he and his quarterback Tom Ciaccio were named to the all-state small school first team offense. Shell played at Gloversville for coach Bob Gould, who would later become his father-in-law when he and Kim Gould married in 1992.
“I was super fortunate as a high school player, a college player and a football coach,” Shell said. “I’ve been pretty blessed. I look back and say ‘Wow.’ ”
Shell is a member of the Gloversville Athletic Hall of Fame, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Athletic Hall of Fame and the Capital Region Football Hall of Fame. He was the third varsity football coach in Burnt Hills football history following Murry O’Neil (1955-84) and Ed Ronca (1985-2001), for whom he served as a varsity assistant for two seasons.
“You have memories no one can take away from you,” Shell said. “Trophies are what people see, but those memories are the most important thing.”