Coaches – Wiregrass Cheers Check Presentation
January 10, 2019 melissa

As our Inaugural Cheers to PUBLic Service – Coaches Cycle comes to a close, we would like to take a moment to thank all 80 coaches that were nominated for these awards. Your stories are touching, encouraging, and honest representations of the heart and soul it takes to be a youth coach, and we are truly blessed to have so many legendary leaders coaching our kids throughout Hillsborough and Pasco County – Thank you for all that you do for our youth, and the community!

Although incredibly difficult, alongside our Pillar Partners, we have selected twenty stand-out coaches that will receive $1000 each as winners of our Cheers to PUBlic Service awards! CONGRATULATIONS, WINNERS!

In addition to $1,000 each, our partners at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers invited all of our coaches along with their guests to enjoy the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Atlanta Falcons game on December 30th, 2018 and Ed Morse Cadillac of Brandon chose four winners to enjoy a Weekend Excursion in a brand new Cadillac Escalade! Huge thanks to all of our Pillar Partners who make this program possible: DeBartolo Family Foundation, The Junior League of Tampa, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ed Morse Cadillac of Brandon, and The Outback Bowl. We couldn’t do it without you!

Please read on to learn a little more about our 2018 Wiregrass winners:
ZACHARY A. SECHRIST – Florida Hospital Center Ice
One of the things Coach Zachary A. Sechrist loves most about coaching is watching the players form tight bonds over the course of the season and nurturing that family dynamic within the  team.  In high school, Coach Sechrist became lost and barely graduated, but thanks to his time in the military learned values such as loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, and integrity – all of which molded him into the committed and passionate coach he is today.  When he returned to his hometown after an honorable discharge, Zachary got involved with his high school coaching JV football, and placed the highest priority on academic achievement because he did not want those young men following his path.  “This is what ignited my passion for coaching and working with the youth. Coaching is just a means of connecting with them in a meaningful way that can be used to positively influence them.”
Coach Sechrist recalls his 2015 football team that went undefeated in the JV regular season (6-0) beating teams by 30+ margins, but despite the extraordinary record, it was the culture of the team, the family mentality that he will never forget.  “Those young men would have done anything for every teammate on that team.  It was something very special.”  Establishing a culture and encouraging players to always surround themselves with positive people is at the center of Coach Sechrist’s leadership style.
In 2017, Coach Sechrist resigned after the birth of his first born, but it didn’t take long for his friend and mentor, Sean O’Flannery, to notice that Zachary missed coaching.  As soon as Florida Hospital Center Ice opened in Wesley Chapel, Sean convinced Zachary to assist him in coaching ice hockey and revisit his passion of working with our youth.  Coach Sechrist has now been coaching both the U12 and U14/16 age divisions for almost a year, and is beyond grateful to the amazing man that both got him back into coaching and nominated him for this award.  To thank Sean for not only being a great friend and mentor, but also for being a positive influence in so many people’s lives, Coach Sechrist plans to give him some of his $1,000 prize.
In addition to Coach O’Flannery, Coach Sechrist would also like to thank Coach Mark Kantor who served as the head coach of Gaither High School when he started coaching and gave him the shot to get started, and Coach Jason Stokes who was very supportive of his coaching career at Gaither High School and made coaching so much easier and fun.
We thank YOU, Coach Sechrist – For your selfless service and dedication to our future generations!
TOM McHUGH – Football Coach Pasco High School

Coach Tom McHugh worked in private industry for seventeen years before deciding to return to college and become a teacher so he could also be a coach.  Inspired by his former high school coach, Ray Buscemi, Tom wanted to have the opportunity to affect young people in the same positive way Coach Buscemi had done for him many years ago.  Fast-forward to today, and Tom has coached many sports over the past thirty years – all of which have their share of unique and wonderful stories thanks to the relationships that are forged between players and coaches:  “Every Father’s Day, Christmas, New Year’s Day and on my birthday, I get phone calls and text messages from former players wishing me the best and just to keep in touch. I reciprocate on their birthdays and holidays, the birth of a child and other life events. There have been many times when I have had the opportunity to coach the child of one of my former players which is a really unique experience. Hearing from former players whether they are playing in the NFL or working as teachers, first responders, electricians or any other occupation and knowing I played even a small part in helping them become who they are makes my decision to coach the best career choice I could have made.”

Although there are many, Coach McHugh shared one story involving a young man’s journey through high school and college (and life!) that helped define him as a coach:  “I first met this young boy when he was an 8th grader at the school where my wife and daughter were his Social Studies and Language Arts teacher, respectfully. This young student was a middle school football player and at the time was having a difficult time in his classes. Since I coached football at the high school and my wife and daughter were his teachers, I was invited to a parent teacher conference to meet him. I will never forget our conversation. I asked him what he wanted to do in life. He responded, “I want to play in the NFL.” I asked him how he was going to get there. He answered,” Do good in school and go to college.” I asked him if I could help and he told me I could. For the next four years of this student’s life I watched as he moved from place to place much of the time he was veritably homeless. He carried his belongings from place to place in plastic bags never really staying in the same place for long never having a parental figure. He relied on our high school community for help when he needed it while never giving up on his dreams of finishing high school, going to college and playing football in the NFL. He played football for me his entire high school career, graduated from high school, got a scholarship to play football at a Big 10 university and now plays in the NFL. Our relationship continued throughout his college career. We talked at least once a week before and after his games and when he came home on breaks we visited. Our continuing relationship, even now that he is in the NFL, has helped define me as a coach, a teacher, a father, grandfather and as a man. This story is one memorable example of how a coach can effect the life of a player and visa versa.”

Just as Coach McHugh and this young man enjoy a special bond that has withstood the test of time, he recalls how it was the bond he had with his high school coach that truly set the stage for this amazing career:  “Coach Buscemi had such an impact on my life and philosophy of coaching that on the night before our Pasco High football team was to play Wakulla in the State Semi-final game, I called him just to talk. Even though it had been 38 years since I graduated from high school, our conversation had such a calming effect that I will never forget the feeling of being back in high school before a game listening to Coach B. talk to the team.”

Thank you, Coach McHugh – For dedicating your life to having a positive affect on young people and being a force for good in so many people’s lives.   We hope you and the McHugh clan have an incredible summer vacation!

MARK LEONARD – Girls Soccer Coach FL Premier FC & Wesley Chapel High School
Coach Mark Leonard has been coaching since 2005, and in that time has coached T-Ball, Flag Football, Basketball, Rec Soccer, Club Soccer, and High School Soccer.  He got into coaching because he wanted to teach the game in a fun and positive environment.  “It goes beyond the wins and losses of the sport.  I wanted to make a positive and lasting impact on each player.  I really believe if you treat each player with respect, and show them you care, the results will fall into place.”
Coach Leonard was nominated by his daughter, whose tribute provided a glimpse of her dad ‘the coach’ through his players’ eyes:  “Coach Mark is my Dad, but he is also my Coach. He coaches recreational soccer, competitive soccer, and high school varsity soccer. He has a full time job, but once he gets off work, he can be found at the field coaching soccer, his favorite job. My coach represents the IRISH characteristics and here is how: INFLUENTIAL- Coach Mark has a positive influence on the teams he coaches because he believes in hard work and perseverance. He teaches us to be good sports with positive attitudes both on and off the field. He tells us that nothing is guaranteed or given to us. We have to work hard for it. RELIABLE- We depend on Coach being at practice and the games. We can count on honest feedback and support when we fail. We know that he is there to give us a pep talk when things get rough. When his players want to quit, we can depend on him to remind us why we want to keep going. IMPASSIONED- Coach Mark has a passion for soccer that jumps right out when you see him coaching. It is shown through his respect for us as players and for the game. He volunteers to share his love of the game by running youth soccer clinics. SELFLESS- Coach’s motto is that there is no “I” in team. He’s all about what is best for the team and not himself. He gives of his time freely to help kids learn to love the game. HUMBLE- You would never know about all his success, because he believes there is always room to improve. He credits his success as a coach to our hard work as players.”
Not only did we love this tribute by his daughter, we also loved to hear that Coach Leonard’s plans for his $1,000 award may involve a certain surprise for a very special young lady.
Thank you, Coach Leonard – For loving the game, nurturing a fun and positive environment, and having a lasting impact on these young ladies!

KEVEN BARBER – Mighty Might Football Coach Wesley Chapel

Fatherhood may have inspired Coach Keven Barber to start coaching, but it was the love of the game that has fueled his passion for the last twelve years.  Coach Barber always loved the game of football while growing up, and as a young man he admittedly made a few decisions where his coaches affected his life for the better – for which he will always be grateful.  When he and his wife started have kids (four boys) he knew that he wanted to coach them, but in a way that would make it fun while teaching them discipline and academics.  Many years later, he continues engaging with his kids and other youth through football (also youth baseball, tee ball, hiking and fishing), enjoying every moment he spends giving back to the great kids of Wesley Chapel.

When asked if there is one story that sticks out as a great representation of why he loves what he does, Coach Barber shared the following:  “I have free football camps for all of the kids in the area, and there was one young kid that loved the game of football but had never played.  He was very shy.  I always tried to talk to him and he would run to his mother not wanting to participate with tears in his eyes.  After a few camps, he and I started to get closer and he began participating in the drills.  I would always try to make him smile and have fun.  Two years later, he is a really outgoing kid and is the starting runningback for his team. Every time I see him at the field he always says, ‘Hey Coach’ and gives me a high five and then says, ‘I’ll be on your team soon.’ To watch kids grow into great individuals and help them make great decisions is rewarding.”
Coach Barber is so committed to the kids of Wesley Chapel, that he is working on starting his own youth football and cheer league to help bring more sports options to the children of his community.  He hasn’t gone public with it yet, but we are proud to hear that the $1,000 awarded to Coach Barber through the Cheers to PUBlic Service program will be the first check in his startup league’s account, and will go towards buying equipment and uniforms for the kids.
Thank you, Coach Barber – For not only your commitment to these kids and the Wesley Chapel community, but also for your passion both for the sport and our youth!  We can’t wait to see what great things you accomplish with your new league!
STEPHEN JONES – Volleyball, Soccer, Tennis Coach Hudson High School

In the case of Coach Stephen Jones, we can thank the actions of a sneaky 8-year-old and a compassionate father for one of Cobra Nation’s most extraordinary coaches.  “When I was 8 years old, my father took me to the rec center to sign me up for recreational soccer.  I secretly wrote his name down on the volunteer coaches form.  After he received the ensuing phone call with his new team’s roster, he laughed and agreed to become my coach.  My relationship with my father, built upon the foundation of many years in youth athletics, was my greatest inspiration to begin my own coaching career.”

A proud Hudson High School alumni, Coach Jones gives back to his community through his work as both an English teacher and coach for three of Hudson’s varsity teams: Girls Volleyball, Girls Soccer, and Boys Tennis. With the help of his coaching staff, Jones has built these programs from the ground up, earning Hudson several district titles.  While his record is certainly impressive, it is the culture Coach Jones lives and breaths into his programs that makes him so extraordinary:  “Coach Jones’ driving philosophy for all his teams is F.A.M.I.L.Y. (Forget About Me, I Love You)- his equation for success as a coach and as a member of the community. At its core, being a part of the Hudson F.A.M.I.L.Y. is a commitment to yourself, your team, and your school- both on and off the court or field. F.A.M.I.L.Y. becomes a way of life. This is the gift Coach Jones imparts on all the athletes fortunate enough to earn a jersey on his team. This culture that Coach Jones has built within our athletics program has extended into our school community as a whole, and has positively impacted the way that our teachers, students, and staff interact with and support each other. The values that Coach Jones exemplifies and in turn instills in his players- determination, compassion, generosity, and loyalty- make him an incredible teacher, coach, and friend.”
When asked if there was one story from coaching that sticks out as a great representation of why he loves his job, Coach Jones referred to that same F.A.M.I.L.Y. culture as his greatest source of pride:  “In all of my programs, my players pride themselves on the culture that we establish together.  My most proud stories involve athletes relying on one another in times of great difficulty, as well as celebrating their successes with humility – together!  There are far too many of these examples to count!  I’ve enjoyed watching these athletes mature into young men and women with high moral character and a resiliency that they face the world with.  A coach is ineffective and lacks importance without players who buy into a system of values and beliefs.  I’m thankful to have spent the majority of my career working with these types of players.”
Coach Jones is planning to donate his entire $1,000 Cheers to PUBlic Service award back to his programs at Hudson High School – a selfless gift from a truly legendary coach.
Thank you, Coach Jones – For being such an incredible force for good in the lives of these young men and women, and the type of coach we are honored to recognize through the Cheers program!
Coach Jones also won a weekend excursion in a brand new Cadillac Escalade courtesy of Ed Morse Cadillac of Brandon!
Congratulations, Winners!  You truly embody the I.R.I.S.H. that we feel define the best of the best, and we hope you spend this prize on whatever brings you joy!