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Cermak quits as Hernando coach

He surprises players with his announcement at the end of the Leopards' annual banquet Monday night. He cites a need to devote more time to his English students at Parrott Middle School.

By GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- The last time Walt Cermak wasn't coaching at Hernando High, his current players hadn't even been born.

After 18 seasons as the Leopards' girls basketball coach, Cermak made a surprising announcement at the end of his team's annual banquet Monday night: He is stepping down as coach.

Cermak declined to comment Tuesday night, but players said they were surprised by his decision, especially the seven who will return next year to a team that will carry high expectations.

"It was really hard for us, especially for (junior forward Carmen Byrd) and I, because we would have been seniors next year," said junior Stephanie Freeman. "I respect his decision, but I wish he would change his mind and come back for at least one more year. I really enjoyed playing for him."

In 18 years, Cermak's teams won the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference crown 11 times, including six straight from 1988-93. The Leopards won nine district titles under Cermak, including five in the last six years.

"He had a number of great years, and unprecedented success for girls basketball, at least at the school if not in the area," said Hernando softball coach Ernie Chatman, who was the Leopards' boys coach when Cermak entered the program.

Cermak, 45, steps down with 388 career wins, and just two years ago he took Hernando to the state final four for the second time, finishing with a 31-2 record. This year's team opened with four losses in its first six games, but rebounded to win the district title with a resounding 43-25 victory over Crystal River.

"After two years, you get to know how he likes to run practice," said Freeman. "I was looking forward to teaching the younger players how to do the different drills."

Senior guard Katye Altieri said she didn't know how much longer Cermak would stay in coaching, but she was surprised to hear he was resigning.

"I was very surprised, and I think everybody was," Altieri said. "Honestly, I didn't think it would be that much longer, but I didn't expect it to be this year."

Cermak's success usually was fueled by his teams' tenacious defense. In this year's district final against Crystal River, Hernando held the Pirates to 10 points entering the fourth quarter.

"His teams were well-disciplined on offense and always played hard on defense," Chatman said. "They never beat themselves. You had to beat them to win, and not many people did."

Cermak, an English teacher at Parrott Middle School, told players he was stepping down so he could devote more time to his students.

"When I was coaching basketball, it always put me in a position where I had to recover after each season," Chatman said. "Walt is the kind of person who puts everything into the sport, puts every ounce of energy he has into coaching, whether it's camps in the summer or practice or games."

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