110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Tony Tussing
posted Feb 5, 2014 - 4:52:02pm
It’s not often that one person stays in the same job for 36 years, but that’s just what DeLand High School basketball coach John Zeoli has done. He gained a coaching position with the Bulldogs in 1978, when Principal Alan Bailes gave him a job. Three years later, Principal Jim Clements promoted Zeoli to the position of head coach for the DeLand High boys’ basketball program.
At the end of this basketball season and at the end of the school year, Coach Z will be retiring. Current Principal Mitch Moyer is the eighth principal that Zeoli has worked for. Moyers will have the task of finding a new boys’ basketball coach for the first time in 33 years.
Zeoli has led the Bulldogs to more than 575 wins, and the team is playing in the district tournament as this is being written. Those 575 wins came while coaching more than 890 games in one of two Bulldog gyms. This gives him a winning percentage of 64 percent.
His teams have claimed nine district championships, and they have been regional runners-up twice and earned a trip to the final four in 2000. All those wins give Zeoli an average of 17 wins per season.
Believe it or not, basketball is not the only sport that Zeoli coached at DeLand High. He won 50 percent of the boys’ volleyball games that he coached at DHS, going 88-44 over eight seasons. He also coached boys’ golf, as well as serving as the head track coach.
Zeoli’s basketball coaching has led to 10 of his players earning Volusia Player of the Year honors. There is no telling how many of the athletes he has coached went on to play basketball on the next level.
A rough count finds that he has coached, mentored and influenced more than 470 student-athletes over the years, which does not even take into consideration the thousands of students he has touched through serving as physical-education instructor during his 36 years at DHS.
The night of Zeoli’s last regular-season game with the Bulldogs, Friday, Jan. 31, found more than 150 people showing up to the game wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with a large “Z.” Nearly 1,000 spectators were present, including many of Coach Z’s former players. The cheerleaders had developed a special cheer for Zeoli.
This was followed by DeLand Mayor Robert Apgar and Mayor Pro Tem Leigh Matusick presenting Zeoli with a key to the city and a proclamation from the DeLand City Commission honoring him.
DeLand High Athletic Director Paul Ryder was up next and presented “Z” with a crystal inscribed with the following: “In appreciation for your years of dedicated service and leadership to the DeLand High School Boys Basketball Program.” That inscription is followed by the quote “A Coach affects eternity...you can never tell where this influence stops.”
Just prior to game time, the national anthem was sung by one of coach Zeoli’s current basketball players while the audience sang along. Then the last regular-season game of the season was underway, with the Bulldogs topping Pine Ridge 58-42.
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