Sarah Wygle was Christmas shopping at Office Max during Thanksgiving break when she ran into her coach, Tas Pepito, and heard the news: He wouldn't be back for another season after accepting a job in the medical field in the Middle East.
"He started getting teary-eyed, and so did I," Wygle said. "I couldn't look at his face. I was really heartbroken."
Pepito, who has taught business classes at Crystal River for four years and coached the swim team the past two, previously worked in the health care industry for more than 25 years. Pepito said he will help coordinate education programs for Tawam Hospital in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, a facility affiliated with the Johns Hopkins health system. Former Seven Rivers Community Hospital CEO, Mike Heindel, whom Pepito worked with for 10 years at Seven Rivers and in Saudi Arabia in the mid '80s, offered him a position on the management team he is creating as CEO of Tawam Hospital.
"It was a tough decision," said the 58-year-old Pepito, whose son Matt is a 2005 Crystal River graduate and kicker for Missouri Valley College. "As much as I want this opportunity, I love this school and love the teachers here. ...At my age I'd better take it or miss the boat."
Pepito recently was named boys tennis coach, which means Crystal River will need to fill two coaching positions.
Athletic director Tony Stukes said he hates to lose Pepito, but hopes to fill the boys tennis position before the holiday break begins Dec. 21.
Under Pepito's leadership this past season, the girls swim team won the Class A, District 3 title and the boys were runnerup behind Trinity Catholic.
"Coach Pepito has been the best coach I've ever had," senior Caleb Oakes said. "He's amazingly devoted to his swimmers. He pays individual attention to everybody. Both teams had a losing record last season and this year the guys went 12-1. In one year he turned the whole thing around."
Pepito said he and his wife, Marilee, plan to keep their home in Crystal River and he will retain his teaching license so he can possibly teach and coach again. He begins his new position Jan. 6.
Dawn Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 860-7303.