School renames gym after beloved teacher, coach
June 17, 2014
By Neil Pierson
Chuck Lee has left a lasting legacy for his colleagues and students at Beaver Lake Middle School, with or without any kind of tribute on their part.
Lee, 58, died Feb. 6 after a decadelong battle with cancer. He’d made an impression on countless individuals during his teaching and coaching career in the Issaquah School District, which spanned 24 years.
The Beaver Lake community mourned Lee’s passing, holding a remembrance ceremony earlier this spring where students and teachers spoke of their favorite memories with Lee. He spent 13 years at the school, teaching math and coaching basketball.
His death, however, sparked a flurry of ideas for a permanent memorial. Parents volunteered to give money to buy a bench or plant trees in Lee’s honor.
Students suggested the winning idea — naming Beaver Lake’s gymnasium Chuck Lee Court. Principal Stacy Cho and others brought the proposal to the Issaquah School Board, which approved the plan May 28.
Cho, in her second year as the school’s principal, said she was initially hesitant about the plan because, in her eyes, every teacher is special and it’s difficult to honor everyone in similar fashion.
“I just wanted to be thoughtful, but it was overwhelming — the kids, the teachers, the parents, the community, we wanted to do this for Chuck,” Cho said. “He is a once-in-a-lifetime (teacher).”
School officials plan to reveal a plaque at a June 18 ceremony, and have invited Lee’s wife Lisa and his sons Winslow and Turner to attend. The words “Chuck Lee Court” will be painted on the gym floor sometime next year, Cho said.
Colleagues remember Lee — a 1980 University of Washington graduate — as an ardent Husky supporter, frequently wearing purple and gold around the school. He liked to embrace his inner swashbuckler, donning his best buccaneer garb every Sept. 19 for International Talk Like a Pirate Day.
Lee was also an infamous prankster.
“I’d open a drawer and it’d be full of popcorn or something — you just never knew,” said Marci Lindsley, a Beaver Lake math teacher who taught with Lee for 30 years. “He was fun to prank back as well.”
Seventh-grader Charlie Clemans, whose mother Leora teaches health and math at Beaver Lake, recalls the time Lee surprised him by wiping a big handful of hand sanitizer across Clemans’ ear. Then he apologized, saying he thought the student’s ear looked dirty.
As a sixth-grader, Clemans was in Lee’s math class, and he didn’t like the subject much. Early in the year, he tried to avoid interactions.
“But Mr. Lee would always cheer me up and make math a lot more fun,” Clemans said. “And whenever I had difficulty with the problems, he’d compare the problems to real life, connect them to basketball or soccer or football. And that was really cool, because I’m really into sports.”
Lee was cheerful nearly every day, and his attitude was contagious to those around him, said math teacher Mark Coté, who has worked at Beaver Lake since 1994.
“I have to think that of all the dozens of people I’ve had the chance to work with,” Coté said, “nobody has brought to the math classroom the joy of just being in the room and having the students absolutely be enthralled to learn math the way Chuck does and did.”
Lee’s coaching style also won plenty of fans. He was the first boys basketball coach at Skyline High School when it opened in 1997, and his lessons translated effectively to a younger age group at Beaver Lake.
Lindsley, whose husband coached with Lee, got an email last October regarding a former Skyline player during Lee’s tenure. The coach had struggled with the player’s behavior — he skipped practices and got angry during games — and considered cutting him for the team’s sake.
Lee stuck with the player, who reached out to him last fall with an email thanking the coach and telling him his lessons mattered.
“He was the one kid he thought he hadn’t reached,” Lindsley said.
Leora Clemans was the scorekeeper at many basketball games with Lee on the bench, and she lauded his ability to make the team the top priority over any individual needs.
Last year, she was teaching sixth-grade math with Lee. She’d just finished reading a motivational book authored by Phil Jackson, one of the top coaches in NBA history.
“I look over, and here’s one of the most troubled kids,” Clemans said, “just really struggling with behavior and getting work done, and just buying into the whole idea of doing well in school, and he’s carrying around a Phil Jackson book, the same one that I had just read. Who had given it to him? Chuck Lee.”