The Teacher Feature blog series celebrates our faculty’s passion for education and their joy in the journey of building our students’ futures. In this series, we will get to know these beloved educators. Just like our students and families, our instructors matter here. To learn more, visit our website.
As leaders in sports often are, Academy at the Lakes’ Athletic Director and Varsity Boys Basketball Coach Tom Haslam is humble when speaking about the success of the Wildcats’ athletic program. But it isn’t a coincidence that the program has been steadily growing and shining since the day Coach Haslam became a part of the Academy community.
It is hard to believe that Coach Haslam’s dream wasn’t always to work in athletics or at least be a basketball coach. In fact, he wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted to do when he was in high school and even college.
Initially he majored in textile engineering because of a scholarship he received from a local textile engineering plant.
“I tried it for a year and it just wasn’t for me,” Coach Haslam explained. “I didn’t want to stay in the same town. I wanted to move on. Going through school with [that company] and then getting a job there would have tied me to that town. It was a great place to grow up, but I wanted to move away.”
And for him that meant going to college at Auburn University and majoring in Business Management for 2 years before eventually shifting his major to Physical Education.
Interestingly enough, it was a conversation with his brother that initiated the change in majors.
“I was always the kid in the neighborhood who organized the pick up basketball and football games. I was always the one that would get everyone together. So, it was kind of destiny that I became an athletic director and coach,” Coach Haslam said.
Coach Haslam was a physical education teacher, athletic director and dean of students at a Catholic school in Brandon for 22 years before, in 2008, Academy at the Lakes’ Head of School Mark Heller contacted him about a position at a small school in Land O’ Lakes.
“I got a call out of the blue from Mr. Heller to come interview. Someone had recommended me. It was crazy,” Coach Haslam said.
His first time on Academy’s campus, he was greeted in the Upper Division by a student who guided him to Mr. Heller’s office. It was a good first impression that made an immediate impact on him about the kind of community he was stepping in to.
“I was sold right off the bat,” Coach Haslam admitted. “Most everything in my life, I go by how it feels. It is like walking on a college campus. It either has a really good feel or it doesn’t. I go by that. And my gut told me this was a good place.”
In his interview with Mr. Heller and Upper Division Director Robert Sullivan, they spoke about the athletic program.
“[Mr. Heller and Mr. Sullivan] pretty much laid out where Academy was athletically,” Coach Haslam said, “And it wasn’t very good, but Mr. Heller said it had good bones. In other words it wasn’t where they wanted it to be, but it had potential.”
Little did Coach Haslam know just how right Mr. Heller was. With the school’s good bones and the right leader in the Athletic Director’s seat, Academy’s athletic program quickly rose to one of the state’s very best.
“I like to build. I built at my first school when I got there , and I thought Academy would be a good challenge as well,” Coach Haslam said. “I felt that the first step was to get really good coaches. And I think we’ve done that. I would put our coaches up against anybody’s, pound for pound. We’ve got really good coaches here.”
According to Coach Haslam, the next step was to get nice uniforms for the athletes.
“We replaced all of our uniforms with Nike uniforms over a three-year period. And for these kids, that means something to them. They have to feel good to play well. We gave them something to be proud in. It sounds like a minor thing, but I think everything starts with how the student feels on the inside.”
Last year was a record year for Academy’s athletic department.
Coach Haslam was named the Tampa Tribune’s Pasco County Boys Basketball Coach of the Year for the second time in three years. Academy was honored as Florida’s top 2A private school athletic program during the 2014-15 school year and received the prestigious Carey E. McDonald award for the first time in school history.
Last year, Academy’s athletic department also boasted District Championships in softball, girls basketball, and boys tennis. The school also won Regional Championships in girls and boys basketball, along with an individual state title in girls swimming and a girls doubles State Championship in tennis.
Before Coach Haslam became the Athletic Director, Academy offered nine sports, had 31 teams, and hadn’t won any district or regional titles.
Now, Academy offers 14 sports, 36 teams, and has won 10 district titles and six regional titles.
“We have had success as a team,” said Coach Haslam. “We have been noticed.”
Teacher Tidbits: Get to Know Coach Haslam
Kind of Music: Alternative rock
Villain: Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoon
Superhero: Spiderman, cool outfit
Finish the Sentence
My favorite subject in school was English.
When I was in 6th Grade, I wanted to be a novelist.
I love when my students do beautiful things to help others without me asking them to.
I love teaching at Academy at the Lakes because of the great colleagues I work with and their love for their job and our school. The kids make it special, also.
When I am not at school I like to watch TV… constantly moving from one channel to the other.
The best advice anyone ever gave me was: “If you do what you’ve always done, then you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”
In the movie of your life, what actor would you want to play you and what would the movie be called?
John Wayne “The Searchers”
If you could have any super power, what would it be?
Being able to fly
If you could interview anyone, alive or dead, real or fictional, who would you interview and what would your first question be?
My father “What was it like being in World War II?” I never asked him and I regret it deeply.
If you could have any artist (alive or dead) draw a picture of you, who would you choose?
Picasso. He wouldn’t have to make many adjustments.
If you could go back in time, where would you go and what would you do?
I would go back to my high school and apologize to all of my teachers for being so difficult. I would also try a lot harder… at everything!
“Coach Haslam has provided my son with guidance that applies to life both on and off the court. He respects his players and commands the same respect in return. My kids are lucky to have worked with him and have grown from it.”
– Tiffany Hannah, Parent
“The last 5 years have been so special to me because of how close we became. Spending so much time together, whether it was on the court or in his office, meant everything to me. Being at Academy brought us closer and gave us the amazing relationship we have today. I was extremely lucky to have him as a coach and a mentor but even more lucky to have him as my dad.”
– Ethan Haslam ‘15
“He taught me that ‘on time’ is late and that early is ‘on time.’”
– Mikey Mauger ‘15
“Coach Haslam helped enable not only athletic success at Academy but also created a culture of school spirit and pride. He is a supporter of all athletic teams, and grants all athletes the support and recognition they need and deserve. His kindness and passion for athletics and Academy as a whole have truly fostered student athletes’ happiness, development, and success.”
– Andrea Mauger ’13
“ I have always had very strong respect for Coach Haslam from the very moment I walked in Academy’s doors. He has helped shape and mold me to the person and coach that I am today! I spent a lot of time just picking his brain on a regular basis, trying to see what I could take from him. Coach Haslam is the cement that holds all of AATL’s athletic programs together. He installed a winner’s mind set into every program. He taught that the only way to reach success is to go and work at whatever it is that you want to succeed at. And I carry those traits with me to this very day!”
– Jarrett Harvey ’12
“Coach Haslam is a good guy. He is always positive. I decided to come to Academy specifically to play for him on the basketball team. He is very supportive and I know that I will blossom into a new player here.”
– Matthew Bates ’18
“Coach Haslam always has your back. If you fail, he is there to pick you up and tell you what you did wrong. He is always trying to make you better. He finds something you are passionate about and uses that to motivate you.”
– Darin Kilfoyl ’17
Our award winning athletic department offers 14 sports for boys and girls, and fields 36 teams in those sports at the Middle School, Junior Varsity, and Varsity levels. As members of the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) 2-A Classification, our Wildcats have won multiple district and regional championships, and consistently earn All-District and All-State honors. Learn more or schedule a tour.