It was a great day for the orange and black earlier this week.
The Winter Park City Commission chamber was at the point of overflow on Monday as dozens of Winter Park High School student athletes were honored for recent state and national championship victories.
Winter Park Wildcats in attendance included the boys and girls crew teams, the girls track and cross-country teams, the schools competition cheerleading squad, the boys doubles tennis team, and the Special Olympics unified basketball team.
“There’s so many gifted scholars and athletes here today,” Mayor Steve Leary said.
The girls cross country team took the 4A state championship at FSU back in November, earning the third fastest team average in state history.
“This is the winningest team in school history and they’re all back next year,” Coach Kristin McWilliams said. “Not a senior in the group.”
Four runners from the cross-country team – Elizabeth Jenkins, Melanie White, Katie Kuhn and Rafaella Gibbons – also took a state championship earlier this month for the 4 x 800 meter event in track.
Freshman runner Rafaella Gibbons put forth a tremendous effort of her own, earning a first place finish as the 4A individual cross country state champion and the 3,200-meter run track state champion.
“I feel very happy about it because I worked really hard this season to be able to win,” Gibbons told the Observer last week. “I’m glad my hard work paid off.”
Last month also saw the 34th overall state championship for the school’s boys and girls crew teams – the fourth crew title in a row for Winter Park High School. Both teams will look to continue their success when nationals start later this month on May 21.
Just the week before crew team rowed to its state championship, back on solid ground, a duo of Wildcats – Ninan Kumar and Will Smyrk – won the doubles tennis state championship.
Winter Park High School’s competition cheerleading team took a national championship back in February at the UCA Nationals as well.
“There’s a lot of champions; this is pretty cool,” said Leary, looking over the crowded room of Wildcats.
But Winter Park High School created a new legacy in addition to building on existing ones. The school’s Special Olympics unified basketball team took the first state championship ever in Florida back in February.
It was the first time FHSAA showcased Special Olympics basketball.
“We thank you for this opportunity,” Coach Amy Howard said. “We appreciate that Winter Park supports the Special Olympics to the point that they do. This is a unique situation for us, because this is the first time ever that we have a unified group where we take students with intellectual disabilities and rigor-education students and they compete together statewide. We are very fortunate to be the first state champs in Florida.”
Winter Park High School Principal Tim Smith said the celebration of school champions at City Hall made it a great day to be a Wildcat.
“We are so proud of our student athletes and the tremendous accomplishments that they have had.”