By Sean Bowes
The students and staff at Wiregrass Ranch High (WRH) are still in shock over the unexpected death of Chris Bounnell, a popular sports coach and science teacher who touched the lives of many of his students. A crisis intervention team has been made available to provide counseling to any students or teachers at the school to help cope with their loss.
Typically, the first week of school is pleasant for students — they get lost while looking for their new classes, they show off the latest “back to school” clothes and they spend time catching up with old friends. But, on August 22, after the second day of classes, Bounnell, 54, died of a heart attack that occurred while he was playing a pick-up game of soccer with a group of students at WRH, an after-school activity he had enjoyed since he began teaching at the school in 2006. It was reported that paramedics arrived shortly after Bounnell collapsed and he died either on the way to or at the hospital.
Bounnell coached boys soccer and weightlifting at WRH, although he previously coached football at Zephyrhills High, where he first became a Pasco County science teacher in 1991. He was one of the founding staff members when WRH opened five years ago.
“He was a fantastic teacher,” said Pasco County School District (PCSD) spokesperson Summer Romagnoli “We are grateful that he graced our school with his smile and fervent passion to help students succeed… He is sorely missed, as he made a profound impact on the lives of the students he served.”
Hector Rosario, a former student of Bounnell’s at WRH, wrote, “I remember freshman year I walked by the weight room after school and the first thing he said to me was, ‘Hey you! You should be in here workin’ out so you can be big and strong like me!’ From that day on, I lifted weights with him until I graduated this past year.”
Speaking of weightlifting, Zephyrhills High alumnus Drew Barthle said, “Coach taught me everything I know about lifting weights. When I first maxed out freshman year at 85 pounds on the bench, he told me ‘Don’t worry about it we’ll take care of that. He worked on me for four years in the weight room and after school playing soccer. He was such a passionate and caring person who taught me so much. Every time I lift, I still picture him correcting and coaching me. He changed my life.”
A funeral service for Bounnell was held at First Baptist Church of Zephyrhills, where students, family and friends came to say a final “farewell” to the dedicated teacher known for his great sense of humor. Online memorials also have been made, including a “R.I.P. Coach Bounnell” Facebook page, which has hundreds of followers, and another page where many students are writing about how funny he could be during class.
He is survived by his wife, Diane; daughter, Sydney; parents, Harry and Bonnie; sisters, Sherry Bounnell and Holly Redpath; and grandmother, Louise Stewart.
Sydney, who started attending WRH as a freshman this school year, now has a college fund set up at the SunTrust Bank Seven Oaks Branch, where the Bounnell family asked for donations in lieu of flowers for Bounnell for his memorial service. At our press time, donations were still being accepted for Sydney’s college fund.