GIBSONTON — The Hillsborough County School Board has voted to name the East Bay High School gymnasium in honor of former teacher and wrestling coach Tom Lota.
Coach Lota compiled a 227-71 record, leading the East Bay Indians wrestling teams to seven district championships, nine Western Conference National Division titles, one regional title and several top ten finishes in the Florida state finals. In 2006, he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. He retired in 2000.
On March 1 of this year, he was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. The news was devastating for the active and youthful 61-year-old and his wife Lynne. It wasn’t long, however, before things began to happen. Family and friends started an online petition to name the East Bay gymnasium in his honor. Former students rallied to the coach’s side for a fund raiser dinner held last weekend; and his youngest daughter’s boyfriend proposed marriage (he had been holding off to wait for better financial security, but he proposed in order to ensure that Tom would walk his daughter down the aisle).
On May 3, the school board voted to name the East Bay gym the Coach Tom Lota Gymnasium. The school board vote was unanimous.
For Tom, he is approaching his diagnosis in much the same way he approached coaching — he simply doesn’t accept defeat. Cancer isn’t defining him, it is merely challenging him. Being a coach, an educator and serving to inspire young people is what defines him.
“That’s what you are,” he said of teaching and coaching. “I never thought of it as a job. It was what I did.”
The dedication of the Coach Tom Lota Gymnasium is scheduled to take place at East Bay High School in Gibsonton on Tuesday, May 24 beginning at 5 p.m.
For more information, visit the Lota Page on Facebook.