EVERGREEN — The Evergreen High School football team took to the field Friday night to celebrate the life of Assistant Head Coach Tom Poholsky.
The coach was found dead in his Dallas hotel on Wednesday while on vacation.
Tom Poholsky was a husband and a father of two children. He coached at Evergreen High School for three years. Poholsky worked with some of the players on his team since they were in third grade.
“He was always just empowering me, just guided me as a football player and as a person in general,” said Karl Schuenemann, a football player.
Poholsky was president of the Youth Football Association for more than four years before moving on. His career in football spanned from his childhood days to college. He was the starting quarterback in 1988 and 1989 at the University of Iowa.
“He just had a deep passion for the game and the impact that it could have on people,” said Matthew Vanpraag, the head football coach at Evergreen High School.
Vanpraag looked down at his Nike Air Monarch shoes and laughed, recalling how he would tease Poholsky for wearing “grandpa” shoes — shoes he bought himself to pay tribute to his “right hand man.”
“This will be the first time I’ll be calling plays at the high school without him at the other side of those headset,” Vanpraag said.
He said Poholsky had a deep love for his family and the kids he coached, always encouraging them and never giving up on players despite the obstacles they faced.
“Coach P was like one of the best people I know, and it broke my heart instantly,” said Owen Levine, a football player.
The family invited the entire community to attend the football game on Friday night against the Lutheran Lions. It marks the team’s first conference game. Poholsky’s son, Tommy Poholsky, a starting quarterback, swapped out his No. 10 jersey for No. 14 to honor his dad — his number at the University of Iowa.
The family is awaiting an autopsy, but they believe Poholsky died of a heart attack.
“I’m going to miss him a great deal on the field. He was always helping out, you know, perfecting everything, so not having him here today is going to be tough,” said Sam Grimshaw, a football player.
The coach and players decided to play Friday night, just one day after Poholsky’s passing, because they said it’s what he would have wanted.
“He’s a rock star, and we will carry on his legacy,” Vanpraag said.
Poholsky’s family asked for privacy. Vanpraag says their heartbroken.
“We are going to play our hearts out for Tom” Levine said. "If we win tonight it, will be for Tom.”
A family friend has set up a GoFundMe to help cover funeral expenses. Vanpraag says Poholsky was the sole family provider, and the family also needs help paying the mortgage and other bills.