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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Sep. 16, 2021 4 months ago

Dr. Phillips High’s swim, water polo coach gets 500th win

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Leo Ramirez, a Panther alum, celebrated the milestone Sept. 1 in the Panthers’ swim meet against Horizon and Cypress Creek.
by: Chris Martucci Sports Editor

To say Leo Leon Ramirez is a passionate Dr. Phillips Panther is a bit of an understatement. 

Ever since he and his family immigrated to Orlando from Sao Paolo, Brazil, when he was 12 — and he later attended Dr. Phillips High School — he has bled the navy and Carolina blue with every fiber of his being. 

Leon Ramirez graduated in 1997 from DP, where he was a swimmer and played water polo. He was part of the men’s swim team’s 1995 state championship team, which was not expected to win. Leon Ramirez also held the school record in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:43.22. 

After graduating from the University of Florida upon transferring from the University of Massachusetts, he came back to DP to work as an assistant under former head coach Bruce Follensbee. Ramirez became the head water polo coach in 2006. In 2017, he added swimming and diving to his duties. 

On Sept. 1, Leon Ramirez celebrated his 500th victory as a head coach for both water polo and swimming combined in the Panthers’ swim meet against Horizon and Cypress Creek. That makes him the leader in career victories at DP. 

“It means I’m still coaching well,” Leon Ramirez said. “I’m passionate for both sports, so it was a pretty cool feeling. It made me feel old, to be honest.” 

When it comes to training, Leon Ramirez said he likes to train for sprinting, because high school swimming mainly consists of shorter events and also because the majority of his team are water polo players who swim on the side. Currently, he only has two swimmers who swim year-round. 

“It’s 95% water polo, 5% club swimmers now,” Leon Ramirez said. “That’s a change from when I started where it was 95% club swimmers and 5% water polo.” 

However, he adjusts to fit the swimmer’s needs. Leon Ramirez also believes in quality of yardage versus quantity of yardage because of the short season, as well as the fact most of his swimmers don’t train club.

Already, that philosophy has paid off. In his first year, DP won districts and sent a relay to the state championship for the first time in at least seven years. On the water polo side, he took the Panthers to the state championship game in 2020. Although they lost, it was the result of many years of trying. 

“We’d be in the Final Four but could never quite get through to the championship,” Leon Ramirez said. “To finally do that was an amazing feeling. We’re looking to get back and win this season.” 

Although he is now DP’s all-time leader in career victories, Leon Ramirez never forgets the lessons he learned while under Follensbee’s tutelage. One of those was to never take any dual meets for granted. 

“Your job is to win dual meets, so every meet matters,” Leon Ramirez said. “He’d always research the teams we’d be going against and put a lineup together accordingly. That’s what I try to do, too, and so far, it has worked.” 

Despite the records, the trophies and the milestones, Leon Ramirez said the relationships he has formed with athletes  and their families are the crowning achievements of his career.

“I’ve had former athletes and parents come up to me and tell me that I had an impact on them when they competed under me,” Leon Ramirez said. “At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. Having an impact on young people. It makes me feel proud to do what I do.”

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Chris Martucci is the sports editor for the West Orange Times & Observer,  Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. He holds a master's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri — Columbia School of Journalism, as well as a bachelor's degree in...

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