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 as the Brett L. Lee Gym. The 46-year-old Lee went on medical leave in January after being diagnosed 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.
He said after that, he never missed an opportunity to speak with Lee, who would encourage, advise and emphasize hard work.
Kamoku said 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.
The dedication 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 a facility after the principal 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 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, 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.”
Lee was unable to attend the dedication. His wife, Sue, represented her husband.
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.