A man ahead of his time: Don Breese Inaugural Hall of Fame Inductee

By Maria Capp special to the Tribune
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Every day we drive the frontage road or Interstate 25, we see his name – Don Breese – on the Lewis-Palmer School District Stadium. But does everybody know who he is? Mr. Don Breese was a coach, teacher, and principal in Lewis-Palmer School District and made a huge impact on the quality of academics and athletics during his term, leaving a legacy from which our students today still benefit.

Breese came to the Tri-Lakes area in 1962 to teach eighth-grade physical education and American history and to coach the basketball team. The time was a turning point for local schools. The district had lost its state accreditation in 1960, and when he arrived two years later the district had just received its accreditation back, on probationary status. “There were no administrators, no secretaries, no custodians, and no policy book to speak of. There were only two teachers returning in grades 7-12 my first year, so we just started from scratch. We had to hire just about everybody,” Breese said.

Although Breese intended to be a teacher, one month into his contract, he was offered the position of principal for the high school. “They picked me to be the principal because everyone was scared of me – I was the biggest, meanest, ugliest one they had. I taught six classes and coached three sports as well,” he said jokingly.

Breese spent the next 28 years as principal.

As the Tri-Lakes area grew, pressure to improve the quality of the district was a welcome challenge for Breese. He describes his policy with community members as an open door, anyone could come talk with him and they had first priority.

As the community of Woodmoor grew, more military retirees came to the area and with clear expectations for local schools: To make students successful in competing for college admission. Breese instituted advanced courses in calculus and mathematical analytics. “We found we had very knowledgeable teachers able to run upper level classes on par with college courses,” he said. By the time Breese retired from the district in 1990, LP was in the state top 10 academically, and 83 percent of the students went on to colleges or universities, a statistic that was unusually high for the times.

“I credit that success to a lot of dedicated people – students, parents, and staff. By the time I left the district, every staff member was a keeper,” he said.

Breese’s most evident legacy may be in the sports programs. He was instrumental in starting girls’ sports programs in the state. He was a leader in the Colorado High School Activities Association, and helped Colorado become one of the first states with high school athletics for girls.

“Doctors told us then that girls had no business being in sports. I decided not to listen to that,” Breese said. The first girls’ sport here was basketball. The overall athletic program became more successful, with Breese coaching basketball and serving as assistant coach to football and track, the only other sports at the time.

He coached for eight years before turning that job over and narrowing his focus to administration. During his time in the district, Lewis-Palmer became a competitive force in Colorado high school athletics.

Breese was recipient of numerous local, state and national awards for his leadership in athletic and academic excellence.

Editor’s note: The Lewis-Palmer School District Hall of Fame award publicly recognizes those who have made significant contributions to the success of the school district, which is now one of the top districts in Colorado. Norma Lavelett, Don Breese and other recipients of the award plan to be present at a public reception Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. in the district administration building. The community is welcome to attend.