Shocked, saddened, in disbelief, were the words students and parents drew on to describe the sudden loss of a beloved teacher, mentor, coach and all around Alexandria institution earlier this week.
Authorities found George Washington Middle School math teacher Mike Vitez dead in his Gordonsville, Va., home about 10:40 a.m. Monday after receiving a request to check in on him. The medical examiners office later determined Vitez died of natural causes, said Gordonsville Police Chief Christopher Spare.
For many, Vitez was larger than life. Everybody knew him, said former student John West, even his friends who didnt take Vitezs class or play for the T.C. Williams tennis team, of which Vitez was coach.
Math is not my strong suit, but Mr. Vitez was the first teacher that made it make sense to me. He made algebra make sense to me and it made sense to a lot of other people, said West, now a sophomore. He was just one of those teachers you dont get very often. The ultimate teacher.
When he wasnt teaching middle school math, Vitez was talking football, hosting pizza parties or just joking around, West said. Vitez made enough of an impression on West that he later created a Facebook group celebrating the teachers playful witticisms that endeared him to students: Dont be a hater and If I ever catch anyone touching my things Ill have them handcuffed and sent downtown, among others. Friends, students and colleagues now fill the page with notes of sympathy and remembrance.
Parents of George Washington Middle School students learned of Vitezs death through a letter sent home by school administrators. Officials assembled a crisis team of counselors to help students deal with the sudden loss of life, according to the letter.
PTA president Melynda Wilcox also sent out a mass e-mail informing parents of the tragedy after school staff alerted her to Vitezs death. Parents reacted to the news with a mixture of shock and grief. Some are already talking about setting up a scholarship fund in his name, she said.
It is shocking and sad, especially when its someone who dies prematurely and at the height of their career, Wilcox said. He was well loved by students and parents and teachers and he was really a fixture at George Washington. He was a teacher who built personal relationships with students and whenever you have someone like that [die] its very shocking and sad.
Evan Pfeiffer is among those mourning. He learned of his coachs death with the rest of the high school tennis team after being called to T.C.s main office Monday afternoon.
When Vitez wasnt coaching the boys, he was debating them in politics or talking sports. Pfeiffer would receive regular calls from Vitez on the weekend, just to exchange tennis or football scores. A life-long Pittsburgh Steelers fan, Vitez liked to remind Pfeiffer just how poorly the Washington Redskins were faring on any given Sunday.
On the court, Vitez emphasized discipline and teamwork, Pfeiffer said. He didnt accept mediocrity or unpunctuality. Dedicated, Vitez often stayed late after practice to work on skills until his players had the moves down pat.
Like many of his teammates, Pfeiffer still struggles with the recent loss. The tennis court will never be the same, he said.
Hes the heart of the team, the face of T.C. Tennis, Pfeiffer said. Its really hard to imagine what tennis season will be without him. His name is synonymous with the team.