With high school graduations occurring in less than two weeks in the same building, Wednesday was the right day to for the School District of Osceola County to hold its eighth annual athletics banquet, where it saluted its athletes, coaches and administrators.
A heaping handful of awards were given out to recognize both athletic and academic achievement. The event was held, as usual, at the Silver Spurs Arena under the direction of School District Athletics Coordinator Ryan Adams.
“I’d like to thank our Superintendent, Dr. Debra Pace, and her administration. They give us everything we need and without their support we’d struggle,” he said.
The county’s athletes did not and have not struggled in 2018-19, as Adams highlighted: the Osceola boys basketball and Harmony competitive cheer state championships as well as some smaller victories like Gateway’s first Orange Belt Conference flag football title and the turnaround of the Liberty softball team to have its first winning season.
Eight coaches, one from each of the county’s large public high schools, were nominated for the M. Dean Cherry Coach of the Year Award, which this year was awarded to St. Cloud’s Chad Ansbaugh, who helped lead the Bulldogs’ girls basketball team to its first state tournament in 25 years. He has also coached football and tennis in a year-round commitment to working with other people’s kids while remaining true to the three of his own.
Ansbaugh got a bit emotional at the announcement; Cherry and Mike Fields, Ansbaugh’s father-in-law and longtime St. Cloud and Harmony baseball coach and administrator, worked hand-in-hand for many years.
“Those lines can be drawn. I wish Mike was here because that’s the guy who’s hand you want to shake tonight, the guy you want the approval from and be a part of that journey,” Ansbaugh said.
He thanked everyone involved in athletics at St. Cloud — “The village is big” — and how driven his players are.
“You don’t get to pick you size or athleticism. We have girls who were changed and motivated by what happened in Lakeland,” he said. “They were in the gym that next day — by choice. As long as I have kids like that I’ll keep doing this.”
Also nominated were Osceola boys basketball coach Nate Alexander, the 2017 Dean Cherry recipient (“I thanked Nate for letting me win his award,” Ansbaugh joked), Gateway girls basketball coach Justin Marino, Celebration volleyball coach Pedro Davila, Harmony cheer coach Danielle Curry, Liberty weightlifting and football coach Chrispen Johnson, Poinciana boys soccer and tennis coach Daniel Joyner and Tohopekaliga cheer coach Maris Caruso.
Ansbaugh noted that “coaches don't get noticed if they don't have great players,” and one of his, sophomore Eno Inyang, was recognized as the district’s Female Athlete of the Year. Inyang also played volleyball and was a thrower on the track team, setting a high bar for the second half of her high school career.
“I’m so honored they chose me,” she said. “I just thought I’d play this year, and it was very busy and very good. Next I want us to be state champs (in basketball).”
Three-time 138-pound state wrestling champion Malyke Hines is the Male Athlete of the Year for the second year in a row. His award was more of a “lifetime achievement award”: his career high school wrestling record was 223-5, including a 48-0 senior year that included a second National High School Coaches Association national championship. He will wrestle in the fall for collegiate power Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.
“I can’t believe it’s over, but I’m really excited about what comes next,” said Hines, who leaves for upstate Pennsylvania in just weeks.
Last year the county debut its Academic Student Athlete Awards, and this year’s recipients are both headed to the University of Florida with academic scholarships in hand. Harmony’s Chase Whitfield played volleyball and was on the weightlifting team, but hopes to earn the starting long snapper job for Coach Dan Mullen’s football team. Whitfield carries a 4.0 unweighted GPA (4.64 weighted), is his class’ salutorian and is both a National Merit Scholar and Stamps Family Foundation scholarship winner. Gateway swimmer and water polo player Thao Phan is seventh in her class and a member of national youth leadership forums.
The fourth Mike Fields Distinguished Leadership Award was presented to Celebration boys soccer and distance running coach Chad Boudreaux. The storm soccer team has reached the Class 5A state semifinals each of the last two years.
“This award is more about the program than it is about me,” Boudreaux said. This wouldn’t happen if (former CHS Athletic Director) Chris Lavoie hadn’t given an unproven coach a shot. It also wouldn’t happen if (current AD Rick) Tribit wouldn’t have stuck with me, or for (athletic trainer) Travis Welch keeping our athletes healthy, or four administration giving us the full confidence to run the program the right way. Lauren Osborne and the rest of the coaching staff works tirelessly day in and day out to complete our vision of the program. It also wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t for the players buying into the program and our vision.”
“Go Storm Soccer and our supporters provide the support needed, my parents have taught me the way to be the way I am, and my wife and best friend Melissa allows me the countless hours and dedication it takes to put an all out effort to lead these boys into men.”
The Athletic Director of the Year is Gateway High’s Travis James.
For the third year in a row, St. Cloud claimed the OBC All-Sports championship. The Bulldogs only led the standings over Harmony by one point going into the spring, but St. Cloud was first or second in every spring sport except girls track (third) and romped to victory.
Harmony did claim the County Academic Achievement Award, won for having the athletes with the highest cumulative GPA. Gateway’s girls cross country team (3.721) and the St. Cloud boys golf team (3.720) were recognized as the county’s top team GPAs.