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Photo courtesy of Hoover City Schools
HCS 2014 Finley Award winner Zelwak
Hoover City Schools 2014 Finley Award winner Michael Zelwak, who teaches 11th grade English and serves as Spain Park High School’s Cross Country coach as well as the coach of the indoor and outdoor track teams.
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Hoover Coach Bob Finley
An annual, district-wide award recognizes an employee and two graduating seniors from Hoover City Schools who exemplify good character in the spirit of former coach Bob Finley.
Michael Zelwak may be a New Jersey native, but he’s been in Hoover long enough to know the legacy of legendary W.A. Berry High School Coach Bob Finley.
“Mr. Finley was a great man from what I know. Being a part of the Hoover City Schools you hear about him and the history he left and the legacy,” Zelwak said.
Today, Zelwak continued that legacy, being named the Hoover City Schools 2014 Finley Award winner. The announcement came in a surprise ceremony that included his wife Anne, daughter Leighton, extended family, friends, colleagues and others.
“Just to be considered [for the Finley Award] is an honor,” Zelwak said. “To win it is actually probably one of the highlights of my teaching career.”
Zelwak, who teaches 11th grade English, also serves as Spain Park High School’s Cross Country coach as well as the coach of the indoor and outdoor track teams. He’s been at the school 10 years. He came to Alabama to attend UAB, with aspirations of a career in the medical field. It was there he met his future wife Anne –and changed course from medicine to education.
“Michael is very outgoing, which makes life with him exciting. He loves what he does,” Anne Zelwak said. “That’s probably the thing that impresses me the most about him.”
Anne joined members of the Finley Committee for Character Education, principal Dr. Ken Jarnagin, Superintendent Andy Craig and others Monday morning for a surprise ceremony in the school’s library.
“I think he was completely surprised,” Anne said. “It was hard to keep it from him [this morning].”
Zelwak’s surprise was evident as he accepted the award — the single-biggest accolade bestowed by the school system each year. For him, having family on hand made the experience all the better
“I always try to etch out some spare time for my family, which is a balancing act but it’s something that’s been very rewarding to give me some down time away from school and away from coaching.”
Zelwak and the two senior student winners (Chandler Fullman/HHS and Will Freeman/SPHS) will all be celebrated March 20 at the Finley Awards Banquet, held at the Cahaba Grand Conference Center on U.S. 280. The event is scheduled for 6 p.m.
The annual celebration features the recognition of the three winners, in addition to grade-level character award winners from each Hoover school in grades kindergarten through 12th.
The Finley Committee for Character Education was created in 1996. Its current chairman is Jeff Dance. The committee hosts events throughout the year to recognize students who exhibit exceptional character, in the spirit of Coach Bob Finley — the committee’s/banquet’s namesake. Longtime coach/educator at W.A. Berry High School (the original Hoover High), Finley led by example and was known for his calm demeanor, integrity and strong faith.