Zach Karikas, a Freedom High grad, receives his award from New Tampa YMCA sports and teen program director Eamonn O’Sullivan. (Photo provided by the YMCA) 

For the past five years, Zach Karikas has been a fixture at the New Tampa Family YMCA in Tampa Palms. If there was a youth league basketball game going on, Karikas was almost definitely there. Prior to the Coronavirus outbreak, he was a volunteer coach for four different teams in the league, which included the 7-8, 9-10, 11-12 and 13-15 age groups. 

When the gym at the New Tampa Y opened again for limited 3-on-3 leagues in the fall, Karikas continued coaching. The 5-on-5 leagues finally started up again in January. 

Karikas, 28, was recognized for his dedication when he was awarded the 2021 New Tampa Family YMCA Volunteer of the Year award. He received the honor from Sports Director Eamonn O’Sullivan in a virtual ceremony held in late March.

“I didn’t even know the Y did a Volunteer of the Year,’’ said a surprised Karikas, who adds that he has always loved basketball, even if he wasn’t particularly good at it.

 A 2011 graduate of Freedom High, also in Tampa Palms, he said he tried out for the basketball team all four years and was cut every year.

He went off to Marshall University in West Virginia to pursue a degree in athletic training. When that didn’t work out, Karikas left Marshall in 2013 to return to Wesley Chapel. A few years later, he wanted to apply for a college scholarship and one requirement was community service hours. That’s when he started volunteer coaching at the YMCA despite not having any kids of his own.

Zach Karikas

At first, he coached just one team. But, that quickly became four teams.

“I just fell in love with it,’’ he says. 

He currently is enrolled at Pasco-Hernando State College and his full-time job right now is installing shower doors. Ultimately, Karikas says he would like to earn a degree in sports management and coach basketball at either the high school or middle school level. It’s a passion he discovered five years ago at the New Tampa Family YMCA. 

“I caught the coaching bug,’’ Karikas says. “I really enjoy coaching the youth, both on and off the court, showing them that you don’t have to be Lebron James to succeed on or off the court. It’s not always going to be sunshine and rainbows — there are ups and downs. You just have to keep going with whatever you want to do. Being a positive role model is a good feeling. Right when I walk into that gym I’ve got like five kids coming up to me and saying ‘Hey, coach Zach.’ I love the ability to give back to the younger generation.’’

For more information about the New Tampa Family YMCA, located at 16221 Compton Dr., call (813) 866-9622 or visit

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