Casteel basketball coach Brett Huston can feel the numbing sensation on the right side of his face on a daily basis.
It’s a constant reminder to monitor his movements in an effort to not spark a jolt of pain that at times can last for days.
“You have to do everything you can to not move your face in a way that triggers the pain,” Huston said. “But it can happen really at any time. It’s debilitating.”
Huston has battled Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN) for 14 years. He was diagnosed at the age of 30, a rarity for the neurological condition that normally affects women over 50 years of age.
According to the Mayo Clinic, less than 200,000 people suffer from TN a year, which is caused by a blood vessel applying pressure to the Trigeminal nerve from the right side of the mouth to the brain.
“My first episode I was in the bathroom shaving just like normal,” Huston said. “I started to shave on the right side of my lip and all of a sudden the pain started to shoot across my face. I had to call my wife in to help me.”
Not yet aware of his condition, Huston visited doctors and a neurologist before finally being diagnosed with TN. He was prescribed a medication to help limit the number of painful episodes.
Shortly after a major episode in October, he underwent a procedure called CyberKnife surgery, which uses radiation on the Trigeminal nerve as it enters the brain stem. However, because the procedure occurred during the school year, he has yet to stop taking his medication.
He won’t know how successful the surgery was until after the season.
“Now just isn’t a good time, we are in a stressful situation of competing for a playoff spot,” Huston said. “I think it did help but we won’t find out until we try to reduce medication.”
Huston’s coaching career began in Tucson at Flowing Wells when he was in his early 20s. He then spent time at Queen Creek before becoming an assistant under Neil MacDonald at Campo Verde.
He was later hired as an assistant at Corona del Sol under Sam Duane. He helped coach the Aztecs when they became a top-10 ranked team in the nation.
One day, Duane approached him and told him about a small school opening in Chandler. Huston applied and was hired. Little did he know Casteel’s enrollment would quickly spike.
“I love small school ball,” Huston said. “It was supposed to be 3A or 4A. We opened it and I think we did such a good job making it a desirable school the enrollment just spiked.”
Huston has coached the Colts to a 61-44 record in nearly four full seasons at the varsity level. Casteel is currently 7-13 this season. He’s led the Colts to the playoffs each year, but it hasn’t always come easy when considering his physical health.
The 45-year-old’s most recent severe episode came back in October, just days before the surgery to help fix his condition took place. He described it as a pulsing sensation for the first couple of days, climaxing after a few days before the pain gradually declines in about a week’s time.
A mild episode usually involved a shock of pain throughout the right side of his face three times a minute. During severe episodes, he can have as many as 60 or more shocks of pain a minute.
“There are times when it takes me to my knee immediately,” Huston said. “But there are times they come in a cluster where I will lose 10 pounds because I can’t eat for a week.”
Even during some of his more painful events, Huston tries his hardest to be there for his students and players.
Along with coaching the varsity basketball program, Huston also oversees the junior varsity, freshman, eighth and seventh grade basketball programs on Casteel’s campus. He’s the 5A Conference Chair for basketball and teaches Comprehensive Health at the school and is the public address announcer at football games.
Additionally, he hosts the Mr. Colt pageant, does the campus announcements, runs a community service and sports debate clubs and is part of the equity team which promotes inclusion. In the fall, he also helps as an assistant on the golf team.
“It’s not like my hands aren’t full,” Huston said. “But with not running a year-round program it will be a nice way for me to take a step back.”
Huston comes from a family dedicated to education. His father, Paul, worked for Gilbert Public Schools for 32 years. One of his brothers, Rod, is the athletic director at Mesquite High School. His other brother, Jeff, works at Arizona State University.
Chris, his third brother, is the only one not involved in education. He is a territorial manager for Home Depot.
“We always joke that he is the one that made it out,” Huston laughed. “But he also makes probably three-times more than all of us, so it worked out well for him.”
Huston’s wife, Jena, who he met in college at Arizona State, is a psychiatrist at Perry. His oldest son, James, is a senior at Casteel and became the manager of the basketball team after knee injuries derailed his playing career. Huston also has two other sons at Casteel, Liam is a sophomore and Nathan is in eighth grade.
Part of his decision to take a step away from leading the basketball program revolved around his family. He jokes about his wife being a “basketball widow” due to his early mornings and late nights. He also wants the opportunity to be there more for his sons, especially James, who will likely attend one of several premier academic institutions in California next year.
“We went on a college tour over fall break and it was the first time I really put basketball last,” Huston said. “I know this will give me a chance to be a dad and not just a coach.”
While Huston’s decision comes at a time where focusing on his own health is more important, he admits there was still a sense of regret. He prides himself on always being there for others, whether it be his family or all of the players in the basketball program.
But his feeling of regret eventually turned into acceptance. It was at that time he and Casteel decided to formally announce he would step down at the end of the season.
Huston’s resignation from the basketball program doesn’t signal the end of his tenure at Casteel. He still plans to teach for as long as the school will have him, or until he is physically unable to do so.
He will also be taking over the golf program, which has a promising season ahead this fall after a top-five finish at the 2019 state tournament and all of its golfers returning. He will also remain the head coach of Nathan’s club basketball team.
“I’m still going to be around and here for the kids if they need me,” Huston said. “I think that made it easy on some of them knowing I wasn’t leaving the school.”
As senior night for the Colts rapidly approaches, Huston recognizes his time as the head coach is coming to an end. This year’s senior class is the second he has coached and is comprised of players who left their junior high to attend Casteel in eighth grade and help build the program.
While he has closed the door on his future as a head coach, he still hasn’t ruled out becoming an assistant. But for now, he will enjoy the time he has left with his team and focus on his health to benefit himself and his family.
“It’ll be a tough night, I’m not going to lie,” Huston said. “Everyone on this campus knows how much I love being a Colt.”