Trading Places: Vonada relocates to Weeki Wachee, Lee switches to Hernando

Ex-Hernando Head Coach Bill Vonada during the 2017 playoff game with Clay High School at Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

FOOTBALL

Ex- Hornet Athletic Director

Lee and Endeavor’s Ruiz to HHS,

Vonada takes reins as WWHS AD

By TONY CASTRO

HernandoSport.com

In an ever-changing world of professional and collegiate athletics, trades take place every day.

Mostly lateral moves to new locales.

Now, no one locally had ever heard of Springstead High School’s physical education instructor. Frank Vitale,

Frank Vitale

maintaining his PE slot on the Mariner Boulevard campus while being hired as Nature Coast Technical’s new baseball coach for 2015.

That was a little out of the box, right?

How well did that turn out?

After a revolving door with that position for 11 years at NCT, Vitale holds the school record for wins (71) and has hoisted two Hernando County championship banners and helped produce three district titles in succession.

This year’s NCT squad went 15-1 at home, set a school record for wins (26) for a baseball program that toted home its first-ever regional title and reached the FHSAA State Finals for the first time.

Looking back, it worked out pretty good, huh.

But how about a pair of high school administrators in Hernando County trading places?

Never heard of that, right?

Well, not until Friday.

Bill Vonada. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

After 29½ years as an educator, Hernando High’s William “Bill” Vonada agreed to trade physical education positions with Weeki Wachee’s Mark Lee.

Vonada, who served as Springstead’s head football coach for 15 years, hired the former University of West Virginia graduate assistant coach.

After 15 seasons in Spring Hill, Vonada opted to pack for his new digs at Hernando High in 2014.

After four years at the helm, the county’s winningest-ever football mentor at 97-95, resigned on his own doing on May 16.

Two weeks later, the 54-year-old Vonada was replaced by the 31-year-old, first-year mentor Robert “Kaz” Kazmier as the Leopards’ head man.

Lee in

Kazmier, in an attempt to bolster his staff, reached out to a friend, the 43-year-old Lee.

Mark Lee

Lee, who served as an assistant coach to Vonada, took over the NCT head coaching position in 2009 after Jamie Joyner was let go.

Lee did a more than creditable job guiding the 7-4 Sharks to a Hernando County championship and second-place finish in 3A-6.

But in the first-round 3A-II quarterfinal at Citra, North Marion prevailed, 34-22.

Within three weeks, NCT’s administration sent Lee packing, as he was not renewed.

As fate would have it, Lee immediately applied for the new school being built on US-19: Weeki Wachee High School.

Lee took the head coaching position and also accepted becoming the school’s first athletic director.

After two junior varsity seasons, Lee paced the sidelines over the next five varsity seasons compiling a composite 11-39 won-lost mark.

After the 2016 football season, WWHS Principal Troy LaBarbara, accepted Lee’s resignation as head football coach. He was, however, retained as athletic director.

That lasted until this week.

LaBarbara tweeted that Lee traded PE positions with Vonada.

Not only will Lee be joining the Leopards, but so will Endeavor’s Pete Ruiz.

Pete Ruiz

Ruiz, a former NCT assistant football coach and head baseball coach in 2010, will serve as an unpaid volunteer assistant.

Kevin Bittinger

In another twist, Lee and HHS’ Kevin Bittinger, will serve as co-athletic directors on the Bell Avenue campus.

Lee will serve as an assistant football coach and brings a plethora of offensive knowledge with his specialty: the passing game.

Meanwhile, Vonada becomes the Hornets’ second-ever athletic director and will assist second-year football skipper Jacob Gray in whatever capacity Gary would want him to occupy.

Vonada on the move

Vonada, who celebrates his 30th year as an Hernando County educator in December, revealed after stepping down from Hernando High following a fine 7-3 mark and the program’s fourth-ever district championship, “I had investigated a couple of other positions.

Bill Vonada                                                                     Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

“In the interim, Mark (Lee) and conversed. He wanted to get back in the game. That’s when Troy LaBarbara spoke with me. Mr. LaBarbara was enthusiastic looking at the character education I could bring to Weeki Wachee.

“He understands I’m not gonna to do this forever. I’m looking at this as trying to build the best (athletic) department I can,” offered Vonada.

On accepting the challenge of improving the Hornet athletics, “The transition will take some time. Officially, I start when school starts. Unofficially, a lot has to be done now for a smoother school year. I’m still committed to my church and my family. My youngest son (Josh) will be playing football next fall and still want to follow him.”

Becky Vonada

Vonada spelled out his short-tern goals for WWHS, “I would hope my biggest goals are to teach players to harness more than their athletic abilities. If we take the field, there are more important things in life than the scoreboard.”

“As coaches, it’s amazing what a difference we can be in any young person’s life,” explained Vonada. “That’s what really matters; it’s not the final score of this game or that game. When you help kids become better people, they in turn became better student-athletes.

“Becky (Bill’s wife) and I spoke about being a positive difference at WWHS; that’s a big deal.”

Gray: Pleased as punch

After a 3-7 campaign in 2017, the first-year Gray is pleased his squad set a school record with 282 points.

The Hornets’ defense which surrendered almost 37 points per game, yielded 101 points less than the year before.

With nine expected starters returning on defense, Gray calls those crucial first steps in turning the US-19 program around.

Jacob Gray

Gray is giddy in having a veteran mentor on staff, someone with a wealth a knowledge.

“Adding a disciplinarian like Vonada will bring structure,” shared Gray. “With him on board we become a little more sound across the board. His presence really helps. What Bill has done for 20 years as a head coach isn’t going to change- that’s who he is.”

According to Gray, WWHS’s current offensive coordinator (Dan Gigantelli) and defensive coordinator (Brandon Nuby) were a bit apprehensive upon hearing the news. They figured one of them would be out of a job. But that’s not the case.

“With Vonada on board he’ll help us do so many of the little things we need to get better at,” said Gray. “I’ll also retain a generation of coaching that a lot of the newer coaches might have missed. With his experience, we can look at some things differently. It’ll make our preparation so much better.”

On the biggest positives for the Hornet fans, coaches and players, “The benefits of bringing in a person of Vonada’s character is huge,” stressed Gray. “He helped me back in the spring. We had long conversions on doing this or that a little better.

“As a program we could’ve gone the route of bringing in three different guys or we could’ve brought in what I thought was the best solution with hiring Bill,” noted Gray. “To me, he was the best fit. We got this one done quickly; there was probably two weeks of negotiations. The reason we got this done so quickly was every one was on board with this.”

Mark Lee

Lee: A fresh start

Reached on vacation in North Carolina, Lee didn’t tap dance around joining the Purple and Gold ranks.

“This move gives me an opportunity to get back on the field and still be an administrator,” shared Lee. “Sometimes change is good. I developed great relationship at Weeki Wachee, but when this opportunity opened up, I had to take it.”

How special is the move, “Great opportunities like this don’t happen often,” said Lee. “I enjoyed my time at Weeki Wachee. I wanted to be an athletic director. I wanted to run an athletic program. I got to do so from ground zero, which doesn’t happen very often.”

On the positives from WWHS experience, “I got to see kids and programs grow up,” shared Lee. “Winning from the ground level is tough. But some of those programs are now district champions like volleyball and basketball. We even had a district championship wrestling team.

“It was great to see those programs advance through the playoffs,” he added. “I was very fortunate to have another chance at coaching after Nature Coast. We all go through things in life; I wouldn’t change a thing.

“… In my last season as (WWHS) head coach, as a program we took a step backward – that was unacceptable. Hopefully, the new coach will do even better.”

On what Lee left as a WWHS legacy, “Well, the logo for sure,” he smiled. “That’s for other coaches to answer. I want to come into Hernando and continue to do things the right way.”

As far as goals, “I want to build off what I’ve learned. Hernando has had great success. I’m looking forward to being a part of the history and tradition in Brooksville,” Lee said.

Having a longstanding relationship was Coach Kasmier didn’t hurt.

“We’ve had a great relationship for years,” shared Lee. “It was hard to turn down a chance of coming here last year. Coach Bittinger was a big help, too. Bittinger offered to serve as co-athletic director. He did that on his own. We’ll probably split assignments.”

As far as short-term goals, “I’d like to see continued success in sports and get us back to the playoffs,” responded Lee. “It’s funny but Bill (Vonada) originally hired me at Springstead. His brother-in-law went to same school in Pennsylvania I went to. We’ve always been good friends. I’m gonna make sure it’ll be a smooth transition for him as well.”

Kaz: Delighted on new additions

Coach Kazmier is delighted on HHS’ latest hires.

The first-year skipper was quick to defend the loss of Vonada.

Robert Kazmier

“Bill Vonada is a man of character and integrity; he impacts the whole campus,” shared Kazmier, a 2005 NCT alumnus. “He makes everybody on and off campus a better person.

“He’s being doing this for a long time. You hate to see him leave for the kids’ sake,” expressed Kazmier. “We’re bringing in two guys that should help us immediately. But if you look at what Bill means to education, from the first day he steps foot on Weeki Wachee till his last, he’ll make everyone better.”

On Ruiz’s presence, “We haven’t spelled out exactly what he’ll be coaching,” said Kazmier. “But he coached me up at NCT since Day 1. He’s like a father figure to me. He’s another player’s coach like (Mike) Lastra or (Ed) LaRose were.”

Mike Lastra
Ed LaRose

On what Lee will bring to the table, “When you have to replace a guy like Vonada, bringing Mark (Lee) in helps fill the void. (HHS Principal) Mrs. Booker helped us getting the best coaching staff we could.

“Our staff is full of experience. Someone like Mark (Lee) will help invigorate our passing game. He’ll help develop our quarterbacks and receivers. (Senior QB) Boston (Tafelski) is very sharp. He can run this by himself. But imagine how much better he’ll be under Mark’s influence.

“… Mark is someone whose communication skills are exceptional. He and I trust each other,” added Kaz. “As a former athletic director, he’s in tune with the network to get kids to the next level. The bond between us is super strong. Getting him and Pete on board is huge for me.”

By the Numbers:

William “Bill” Vonada (1998-17/19 Seasons)

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

Bill Vonada                                                                                      Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
 

YR

 

W

 

L

 

.PCT

 

PS

 

PA

1998

4

5

.444

149

193

1999

0

10

.000

69

310

2000

3

7

.300

108

205

2001

6

4

.600

205

116

2002

2

8

.200

158

277

2003$

7

3

.700

243

178

2004$

8

3

.727

297

213

2005$

8

3

.727

276

181

2006

5

5

.500

164

178

2007

5

5

.500

182

201

2008

7

3

.700

280

112

2009

5

5

.500

188

231

2010$

7

5

.583

2524

240

2011

4

6

.400

173

281

2012$

9

2

.818

288

101

2014

3

6

.333

151

244

2015

3

7

.300

145

326

2016

4

5

.444

196

171

2017$

7

3

.700

384

133

 

TOT

 

97

 

95

 

.505

 

3,9088

 

3,891

$ Denotes Hernando County Coach of the Year.

By the Numbers:

Mark Lee (2009 & 2012-16/6 Seasons)

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

Mark Lee
 

YR

 

W

 

L

 

.PCT

 

PS

 

PA

2009

7

4

.636

302

154

2012

3

7

.300

192

336

2013

3

7

.300

158

300

2014

1

9

.100

126

361

2015

4

6

.400

249

299

2016

0

10

.000

178

469

 

TOT

 

18

 

43

 

.295

 

1,205

 

1,919

 

 

 

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