It was a gratifying yet somewhat sad day at Sewickley Academy.
On Jan. 20, the basketball court in the Means Alumni Gymnasium and Events Center was dedicated and named for Win Palmer during Spirit Day.
Palmer, beloved former coach and director of athletics at Sewickley Academy, died Aug. 31, 2023, at Allegheny General Hospital at age 65 from cardiovascular complications.
A scholarship fund also has been established in his name, the Win Palmer Excellence Fund, which will be used for tuition support.
"Today is a celebration and recognition of coach Win Palmer, the personification of school spirit and Panther pride,” Ashley Birtwell, the Head of School, said. "While we miss him terribly, we are not here to mourn his loss, but rather to set a precedent in recognition of his wonderful contributions to this school and his passion for his career and the academy.
"We are celebrating and honoring coach Win Palmer with a day full of basketball in the location he loved dearly. As I look out at the crowd throughout today’s events, I recognize what school spirit truly means.”
Four basketball games took place in the gym that day.
The Sewickley boys varsity team cruised past Nazareth Prep, 60-42, behind the 45-point combined performance of sophomore forward Lucas Grimsley (18), junior forward Nolan Donnelly (14) and sophomore guard Caiden Battles (13).
"It was a special day,” said Jim Dudas, Sewickley’s first-year coach, "and we had a very nice win.”
Dudas talked about the impact Palmer had at the academy.
"Win was kind and caring, unique in so many different ways and so special to so many people,” Dudas said. "He touched the lives of players, parents, opponents, referees and so many others. He impacted this institution, this community and Western Pennsylvania athletics.
"I can say this, because since I have been in my role, I have had people from the community, referees at games, coaches from other teams, players from our program, both present and past, as well as opponents and just random people come up to me and say what a special man coach Palmer was. Virtually every gym I’ve walked into this year, I have been approached by people expressing their condolences but at the same time sharing their thoughts and some stories about coach Palmer.”
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A rendering of the updated basketball floor was on display during the four games. The floor will be refinished and receive aesthetic updates, which are expected to be completed this summer.
Birtwell introduced Derek Chimner, director of diversity, equity and inclusion ,who played basketball under coach Palmer’s direction.
Chimner spoke about the Win Palmer Excellence Fund and formally unveiled Win Palmer Court.
"We are delighted to announce that a scholarship has been established in Win’s name by a generous donor,” Chimner said. "This endowed fund will provide tuition to support an exceptional academy student who exemplifies the values, character and sportsmanship that Win Palmer embraced and encouraged in others.
"A second, exciting tribute to Win involves the court where we are standing today. It seems quite fitting that he should now put his signature on it — literally. We are pleased to unveil that the new court will be named the Win Palmer Court. Design includes Win’s signature as well as a replica of the school’s façade, including the cupola, the symbol of our school.”
Palmer left an indelible mark on the Sewickley Academy and WPIAL sports communities. In his honor, the Win Palmer Memorial Classic took place Feb. 3 at Sewickley Academy with the following games:
• Eden Christian girls vs. Sewickley Academy girls
• Avonworth boys vs. Sewickley Academy boys
"Saturday (was) a special day, as was the dedication of the court,” Dudas said. "But those are also sad days, as I reflect on the loss of a good friend and a great man.”
Jill Capozzi is in her second year as coach of the Sewickley girls basketball team. She coached the girls one season during Palmer’s tenure.
"Win was loved by all and was an inspiration to so many of us who coached under his leadership,” Capozzi said. "The gym dedication in his name is an indication of Win’s legacy and the impact he left on the Sewickley Academy community.
"Those that have the privilege of playing on his basketball court will be reminded of the integrity that was synonymous with the name Win Palmer.”
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In his 22-year tenure and as an integral member of the Sewickley Academy community, Palmer’s accomplishments are astounding.
He coached three sports — basketball, golf and softball — and won 12 WPIAL championships. Under his direction and leadership, Sewickley athletes and teams amassed 16 PIAA titles, 55 WPIAL championships, 108 section crowns and 15 Trib Total Media/MSA Sports Cups.
Palmer was one of the winningest coaches in WPIAL boys basketball history and reached double digits in leading his boys golf team to WPIAL championships.
Palmer was named Pennsylvania Basketball Coach of the Year by the Associated Press in 2010 and 2017.
His career coaching record was 704-317.