As part of Buchholz High School’s original staff in 1970, Gunnar Paulson was the school’s first weightlifting coach. On Wednesday, Buchholz dedicated its weight room to the retired coach and school board member, naming it in his honor.
“This [Buchholz] is where my heart is,” Paulson said at the dedication. “To come back here and have this bestowed upon me, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Paulson’s lifelong friend, Butch Brannock, said he remembers lifting weights with Paulson in high school, using Paulson’s bedroom as their weight room. As time went on, Paulson moved to Gainesville in 1965 to play football for the Gators, attending the University of Florida on a full football scholarship.
After playing for UF from 1965-69 and graduating from UF with a master’s degree, Paulson became one of the first faculty hires at brand-new Buchholz High School.
“I want to congratulate you on your achievements. You had it in you from the beginning,” Jesse Heard, the former Buchholz coach who hired Paulson in 1970, said to the former coach at the weight room dedication.
Paulson said Heard was like a father to him and Heard said he hired Paulson because he seemed like he wanted to be there and had an open mind with “bright ideas.” Together, they “tricked” a school board into giving them two P.E. rooms, one for boys and one for girls, knowing they could use one as a weight room although one board member was against it.
Paulson started both the weightlifting and junior varsity baseball programs at Buchholz, investing himself in the students to a point where more than 50 years later, he was able to laugh about how much each boy could lift at the program’s start.
Bobby Vinson, one of the early members of Paulson’s weightlifting team, said Paulson was a great teacher as well as a great coach. Vinson and several of Paulson’s other former athletes filled the bleachers at the dedication to reminisce about the time they spent training under him. Vinson brought with him a photo of the original team to gift to Paulson.
Five years into the program, in 1975, Paulson led the Buchholz boys weightlifting team to runner-up at state. The next year, the team beat Eastside High School to become state champions and held that slot for four years in a row (1976-79) under Paulson’s leadership.
In the 1980s, Paulson spent some time as head coach at Gainesville High School, and coached football at UF in 1984-85, as well as some time at Williston High School and Moseley High School.
Paulson said his wife of almost 55 years, Cindy, who was a teacher for 21 years and died in 2022, was his real assistant coach. He also honored his daughters, Amy and Melissa, as well as their husbands and children.
In 1997, the Florida Athletic Coaches Association inducted Paulson into its Hall of Fame for his football and weightlifting career, but the coach also taught math and P.E. Paulson said teaching is an important career because teachers can affect their students’ lives.
“You make a difference to them,” Paulson said. “People have made a difference to me, then I get to do it for them. And I think we saw that tonight.”
Paulson served as president of the Alachua County Education Association from 1998 to 2010, when he left teaching and was elected to the District 3 seat of the School Board of Alachua County. He held that position for 12 years, stepping down when his third term ended in November 2022.