Prep basketball: Lely's Don Stewart retires after 26 years

Don Stewart at Lely

* Boys basketball coach: 1983-2009

* Total wins: 456

* District titles: 8

* Southwest Florida Coach of the Year awards: 10

* Miscellaneous: Football assistant coach from 1983-90. ... Coached sons Stacey, Scott and Jared in basketball. ... Inducted into hall of fame at Ypsilanti (Mich.) Willow Run High School, where he was an all-state quarterback, in 2004. ... Sponsor for local Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Video

The FHSAA has proposed cutting the number of games played for all high school sports, except football. Don Stewart, Lely High basketball coach, gives his opinion.

The FHSAA has proposed cutting the number of games played for all high school sports, except football. Don Stewart, Lely High basketball coach, gives his opinion. Watch »

— After affecting thousands of high school students’ lives, it was an 8-year-old boy who showed Don Stewart the direction he needed to go with his.

The Lely boys basketball coach was enjoying time with his family this summer when his grandson, Isaiah, asked Stewart to play baseball with him. Grandpa found it hard to turn down his grandson dressed in his baseball cap and glove, but Stewart had to get to school for the Trojans’ summer workouts.

Seeing the look of disappointment on Isaiah’s face broke Stewart’s heart, and convinced the coach he needed to spend more time with is family.

He’ll have a lot more free time now. Stewart, 60, announced Monday that he was retiring after 26 seasons coaching the Lely boys basketball program.

“It’s just time to step down,” Stewart said. “The average person has no idea — I mean no idea — how much time is spent coaching away from your kids. There’s only so much time here. I need to make wise use of this time I have to spend with my kids and grandkids.”

Since starting at the school in 1983, Stewart won 456 games and took the Trojans to the state playoffs 11 times. This season’s Class 4A-District 12 championship was the coach’s eighth district title.

Lely made the Class 3A state championship game in 1994, finishing runner-up. The Trojans were ranked No. 1 in 4A in 2005, but lost in the regional semifinals and finished 25-3.

This past season Lely fell one step short of the state finals. The Trojans went 19-8, losing to Bartow in the 4A regional championship game. Stewart fell one game shy of his 11th season with 20 or more victories.

“Twenty-six years is a long time to be coaching basketball,” Ruby said. “It was a surprise to us, but when you start having grandchildren and so forth, (retirement) is inevitable at some point.”

For all the victories and titles, Stewart said the accomplishment he’s most proud of is improving the lives of his players. Those who worked with the Lely coach would attest to the fact that he has always taught life lessons, as well as discipline on and off the court.

Travis Waters played on Stewart’s first Trojans team. He was a junior in 1983 when Stewart came to Lely as a 34-year-old from Willow Run High School in Ypsilanti, Mich.

It was Stewart’s first basketball head coaching job, but Waters said he knew his coach was going to be special.

“It’s a sad day for all the kids in Collier County that ever got to play under him and for those who will never get to be on the same court with him,” Waters said. “He brought the best out of me. They should put a statue of him in front of the school for what he’s done for thousands and thousands of kids.

“For putting Lely and Naples on the basketball map throughout the state of Florida, I hope the school names the gym after Coach Stewart.”

For all he’s done for basketball in the area, Stewart started out as a football guy. He was an all-state quarterback at Willow Run and was inducted into his alma mater’s athletic hall of fame in 2004.

Stewart went on to play quarterback at Eastern Michigan and was a guard on the Eagles’ basketball team. He graduated in 1971.

Stewart’s first coaching job was as a graduate assistant for the Eastern Michigan football team. The Michigan native was the head football coach and an assistant basketball coach at Willow Run before switching roles at Lely — he took over the Trojans basketball team in 1983 and became the football team’s defensive coordinator.

After eight years as the defensive coordinator, Stewart gave up his football coaching duties to concentrate fully on basketball.

Lely athletic director Paul Ruby played football for Stewart, who served under longtime coach Merv Ward. Ruby and Stewart were with the Trojans team that went to the 3A championship game in 1987.

“He’s a legend around here,” said Ruby, who grew up with Stewart’s son Stacey and has known the coach since he was 13 years old. “Over the years I’ve watched him do a lot of great things.”

While he could pick a favorite team, Stewart said the 2005 Trojans were his most talented. That squad would have won the state championship, he said, if they wouldn’t have had to play the regional championship game at Lely instead of on the road at Fort Lauderdale-Dillard.

Stewart coached three of his sons at Lely. Stacey graduated in 1987, followed by Scott (’89) and Jared (’08). Scott Stewart still holds school records for most points in a season and a career. He also has the most assists and steals in Lely history.

Scott Stewart played at the University of Florida, where he was a senior on the Gators’ 1994 Final Four team. He spent 10 years playing professionally in Europe and now coaches First Baptist Academy’s third-year boys basketball program.

“He’s been talking about (retiring) the last three years,” Scott Stewart said of his father. “He wants to be around his grandkids more. People wonder if he’s tired, but he always seems to stir up enough passion and energy to come to practice with a lot of intensity.”

Now that he’s retired from coaching, Stewart said he’d like to travel with his wife, Tamie. He also plans to attend more of her events at Lake Park Elementary, where she is the principal.

In addition to his three sons, Stewart has two daughters. Stephanie, 34, lives in Fort Lauderdale, while Hannah is a sophomore at First Baptist. Stewart has six grandchildren.

Coming from the basketball-crazed Midwest, Stewart was never content letting his sport take a backseat to football, as it does in Florida. He’s worked hard to build a basketball program at Lely, evidenced by the large crowds the school draws.

Stewart hopes to continue his role as a basketball ambassador in the area. He plans to continue as a physical education teacher at Lely for at least the next four years, he said, during which he’ll help with the team however he is needed.

“Donny has been a mover and shaker for basketball in this county,” said Golden Gate coach Joe Consolino, who began going head-to-head with Stewart in 1987 when Consolino coached Barron Collier. “He’s been one of the guys to push basketball to the top of the public eye. He’s a real strong supporter of the game. We lost somebody really good.”

After arriving in Naples nearly three decades ago, Stewart said he never imagined he’d be at Lely this long. Now that the years have come and gone and Stewart could be considered one of the best to have ever coached in Southwest Florida, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It seems like yesterday, all that took place,” Stewart said. “There have been a lot of great kids, a lot of great moments. I consider it a blessing to be able to stay in the same place for 26 years.”

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 1

faithfultrojanette writes:

Thanks Coach Stewart - We can't say enough about such a fine man and a FAITHFUL TROJAN! We will miss you dearly! Good luck to you and your family from the bottom of our hearts.

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