For over three decades, he ran basketball players up and down the court — getting them ready for big moments, in big games, in big seasons.
On the evening of June 21, retired Land O’ Lakes High School basketball coach Dave Puhalski had a big moment of his own: That’s when the Pasco County School Board approved a request to name the Land O’ Lakes High School gym after him.
The effort to honor the coach in this way was brought forward by Ric Mellin, the school’s principal, and Heather Wall, the school’s assistant principal. Former assistant coaches, players and others were there, too, to signal their support.
The coach retired in May of 2021.
Mellin addressed the board: “I’m here tonight to speak with you about the dedication of the gym at Land O’ Lakes High School, in honor of Coach Dave Puhalski.
Cheers and applause erupted from the crowd.
“He’s here with his wife Erika, daughter Kenzie and son DD, and I just wanted to mention, both of them are alumni of Land O’ Lakes High School.
“And, as you can tell from the applause, many of his other supporters are also here with us tonight.
“My letter included in the board’s agenda states the reasons why we believe this honor is warranted.
“For just over 30 years, Coach Puhalski served as the head coach of the boys’ basketball team, winning nearly 500 games, earning six conference and six district championships, and taking 15 teams to the playoffs. Very few, if any, coaches ever reached that level of success.
“But more important than the accomplishments on the court were the strong relationships built along the way, as a well-respected mentor and educator at the school during that same time.
“Coach Puhalski taught thousands of students and had a remarkable influence on everyone. In a Tampa Bay Times article about Coach Puhalski, published in February 2020, it stated his hope was for the program to continue standing solidly on the foundation that he built.
“A foundation full of heart and soul.
“In recognition of Coach Puhalski’s successes and devout allegiance to the school’s athletes and programs and the community in which he served for over three decades, we are requesting that the school’s gym be named the Dave Puhalski Gymnasium at Land O’ Lakes High School.
“It certainly has the solid foundation because of his body of work. His name displayed will serve as a stronger reminder of the person that relentlessly gave his heart and soul.”
Assistant Principal Wall also expressed her support: “As a member of the Land O’ Lakes community for more than 20 years, and now in my role as assistant principal at Land O’ Lakes High School, I’ve had the privilege of knowing or working with Coach Puhalski for quite a few years.
“My husband, and many of his friends all played high school basketball for Coach Puhalski, when they attended Land O’ Lakes High School.
“I have heard endless recounts of big games, as well as stories and pranks that are only fit for locker room conversations,” Wall said, with the audience responding in laughter.
“What they remember the most are the life lessons that were gained from being a part of his program.
“I have seen pictures of Coach Puhalski speaking at former players’ weddings, and know that several years ago, he had the honor to speak at the funeral of one of his former players, Dave Starkey.
“Clearly, he has been asked to carry this role because of the difference he has made in the lives of all of his players.
“When I joined the staff at Land O’ Lakes High School in 2018, I was able to get to know Coach P on my own. I quickly saw the positive impact he made on so many of the students on our campus — both those who played for him and for some who were just in his P.E. classes. He became a mentor and a role model for my son, as well,” she said, noting he still asks about her son.
This coach left an impression
“When you talk to people who live in our community and they find out that you work at the high school, they’re always quick to ask about several of our past coaches,” she said.
People frequently mention that they played soccer, football, baseball or basketball for one of the school’s revered coaches, she added. She noted the school already has named its soccer, baseball and football fields after the outstanding former coaches.
“We would be remiss if we did not honor Coach Puhalski with naming the gym after his 32-year commitment to Land O’ Lakes High School,” Wall added.
“I know I speak for many community members and former players when I say he is so deserving of this honor,” Wall said.
On a motion by Colleen Beaudoin and a second by Megan Harding, the school board unanimously approved the request.
Its action was greeted by another round of cheers and applause.
Coach Puhalski addressed the board: “If I said what I really want to say, we’d be here a long time tonight. I would just like to thank the board for this opportunity and all of my friends, former players, assistant coaches — especially my wife (Erika), who was there for 32 years, and my children (DD and Kenzie).
“I’ll keep it that brief, because, like I said, we’d be here until the lights are off,” he said.
Published June 29, 2022