Part pep rally, part dedication ceremony, about 200 people gathered Tuesday in the Pacheco High facility known for home basketball games, volleyball and wrestling matches to honor the school’s first principal, who is fighting for his life.
The gymnasium was officially named the Brett L. Lee Gym. The 46-year-old Lee went on medical leave in January after being stricken with cancer.
Interim Principal Grace Taylor said the school has benefited from Lee’s creativity and strength.
“One of the definitions of strong is being able to stand great pressure or force. Brett does that every day, and he taught us to do the same,” Taylor said.
Since Lee’s announcement, the phrases Panther Strong and Brett Strong have become commonplace on the Pacheco campus. They were repeated often at the dedication ceremony, in which many fought back tears and spoke of how Lee inspired them as educators and students.
Kalama Kamoku, a Pacheco High football player, said he first met Lee as a member of the track and field team.
“The first time I met Mr. Lee was at track practice. The first words out of his mouth were, ‘You need to throw that disc harder,’” Kamoku recounted.
After that day, he said, he never missed an opportunity to speak with Lee, who would encourage, advise and emphasize hard work.
Kamoku said that as the football team entered the playoffs this year, players dedicated themselves to be the best they can be as a way to honor their ailing principal.
“If he doesn’t quit, we won’t quit either,” Kamoku said.
The dedication ceremony included performances from the Pacheco High band, the school’s cheerleaders and a $2,000 donation on behalf of students.
Mayor Mike Villalta issued a city proclamation commending Lee for his dedication to education.
The idea for naming the gym after Lee came from athletic director Charlie Pikas. He recalled Lee helping him move athletic equipment on campus just before the school opened in 2010. Pikas said that when they finished, Lee and he had dirt on their clothing but they were “full of joy” that they were part of opening a new school.
Superintendent Steve Tietjen, whose voice trembled as he spoke while he quivered in sorrow at the podium, commended Lee as an inclusive leader.
“When Pacheco opened its doors, many in Los Banos wondered what kind of school it would become,” Tietjen said. “First and foremost, Brett Lee made sure all students meant all students.”
Tietjen said Lee demonstrated a belief in kindness, fair play and doing what was best for students.
Lee was unable to attend the dedication. His wife, Sue, received an outpouring of love and gratitude as she represented her husband at the event.
Sue Lee said she was moved by the kind words.
“It’s an honor. It means everything to hear people say, ‘stay strong’ and ‘never quit.’ He is very sick, but he’s still not quitting,” she said.
Lee said her husband is humbled by the attention.
“It’s humbling to him. He said he’s afraid they’re going to get Brett Lee overload,” Sue Lee said.
Reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 826-3831 ext 6563 or by email at email@example.com