Community honors East Bay wrestling coach Tom Lota
GIBSONTON - He was known to most as Coach Lota, but the former leader of East Bay High School’s wrestling program will be remembered best for what he accomplished outside of the gym, those who knew him said. A memorial service was held Saturday for Tom Lota in the East Bay gym that is named for him. Lota lost his two-year battle with colon and liver cancer on April 21 at the age of 63. Sharon Morris, East Bay’s principal during the dedication of the Tom Lota Gymnasium in 2011, was one of several people who spoke during the ceremony.“In the spring of 2011, community leaders approached me about naming the gym in his honor,” Morris said. “I was excited for the opportunity to honor a man who had done so much for our community.” Lota spent 24 years at East Bay. His wrestling teams amassed a 227-71-2 record and led the Indians to seven district titles, nine Western Conference National Division titles and one regional title. His program also notched seven top-10 state tourney finishes. Lota was named to the USA Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2006. But all those professional accomplishments pale in comparison to the impact Lota made in the lives of those around him. “He became a pillar in the Hillsborough community as a teacher and a coach,” said Chuck Lota, Tom’s younger brother. “I saw the impact he had in each and every one of the people who visited him these last two years.” Tom Lota was diagnosed with colon cancer — which eventually spread to his liver — on March 1, 2011. He had gone through femoral bypass surgery in 1999, and retired after suffering a stroke in May 2001. Gary Nelson was one of several East Bay alumni and former wrestlers to speak at Lota’s memorial. Nelson said he initially had an adversarial relationship with Lota, but he eventually grew to consider him a “mentor and a wonderful friend.” “The true definition of wealth is the impact you’ve had on another person’s life,” Nelson said. “By this definition, Tom was rich beyond his wildest dreams.” Lota is survived by wife Lynne, son Tom Jr., daughters Kathy Hall and Lynnette Reina, and two grandchildren.