Standing in the middle of the West Orange High School gymnasium, Michael McCalister took in the scene around him.
At 6-foot-6, the senior — who mixes it up at shooting guard and forward for the Warriors’ basketball team — towered among the eager family and friends of the nine athletes who signed during an Early Signing Day event at the school Wednesday, Nov. 11.
It was a celebration of the achievements of these athletes, but it looked a bit different. Everyone wore masks, including McCalister, but no one seemed to mind — especially the student-athletes, who were just happy to have the process of recruitment behind them.
“I just feel relieved,” said McCalister, who will be playing at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University next year. “Now, I can just focus on my education, and I don’t have to stress too much on performing tremendously well — it’s like, yeah, I’m going to play my heart out on the court, but it’s not that pressure to be like, ‘Oh this coach is here, this coach is there.’ It’s just a relief.”
“I can’t say enough good things about Mike,” said boys basketball head coach Eric Jones during the ceremony. “He’s earned everything that he’s been given. Shout-out to the parents — they’ve always been good to him with whatever he wants to do … and I guess the only bad thing is I can’t have him another two to four years.”
Before there were family photos in front of banners, Athletic Director Lisa Montgomery welcomed everyone and made sure to emphasize to both student-athletes — and parents — the weight of the moment.
“Signing a letter of intent is a tremendous honor,” Montgomery said. “I encourage you to make the most out of this wonderful opportunity and continue to pursue excellence at the next level. You’ve put in the work, and you have invested the time into not only become great student-athletes, but great individuals.”
One by one, each of the nine student-athletes got the chance to say a little something to the crowd, which for some may have been almost as nerve-wracking as the signing itself.
Senior Meagan Goldsmith, who rows for the Orlando Area Rowing Society, signed her letter of intent to compete at the University of Virginia. But the decision didn’t fully sink in until the ceremony.
“At first, when I first committed — which was back in March — it was super relieving,” Goldsmith said. “But now, as it gets more real — like I actually signed a contract today — it’s a little bit scary, but I’m still super excited to go.”
Although all athletes made their choice for myriad reasons, it was a combination of things that drew Goldsmith to UVA.
“I’d say I’m equally excited to be challenged academically and in rowing,” she said. “They have amazing coaches there. The head coach, Kevin (Sauer), is a coach for the U23 National Team, so he is a high-level coach, and he has been a high-level coach forever. He’s been at UVA for the past 20 years, and they’ve won the ACC championship, I’m pretty sure, 19 out of the 20 years he’s been there. So, I’m super excited to go there and be able to be a part of a really good team.”
As Goldsmith got a few photos taken with her family, McCalister thought about what his future holds at Embry-Riddle in Daytona Beach.
The big man still has a final season of high school ball to play — which started with preseason action Tuesday, Nov. 17 — but he’s already nailing down his goals for his first year of collegiate basketball.
“Accolades speaking, I’m trying to be an All-American when I get there freshman year — that would be a tremendous accolade for me,” McCalister said.
Alexis Distasio, volleyball, Assumption University
Olivia Osuna, volleyball, Ohio Wesleyan University
Noah Sullivan, baseball, University of South Carolina Upstate
Brendan Valdes, golf, Auburn University
Alicia Virthe, volleyball, St. Mary’s University
Danny Stutsman, football, University of Oklahoma
Riley Cullen, volleyball, University of South Carolina Upstate
Charlese Greco, lacrosse, University of Hartford
Michael Kuehnel, volleyball, Alderson Broaddus University
Brandon Wegner, dive, University of Florida
Khadin Bastin, baseball, Thomas University
Nicole Lerner, diving, Florida Gulf Coast University
Blair Isenhour, diving, University of South Carolina
Brittnee Newsome, lacrosse, Palm Beach Atlantic University
Christina Cummings, soccer, Palm Beach Atlantic University
Meagan Goldsmith, rowing, University of Virginia
Victoria Grieder, rowing, Rutgers University
Kai Knudholt, baseball, Lake Sumter State College
Michael McCalister, basketball, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Tracy Mitchem, baseball, Tulane University
Richard Reeth, baseball, University of Notre Dame
Alexa Scalzo, softball, Lee University
Mason Wilson, baseball, Rollins College
Jack Bellah, baseball, West Florida University
Alyssa Biernat, rowing, University of Tennessee
Juliana Camargo, golf, University of South Florida
Cassidy Chambers, beach volleyball, LSU
Kanye Jones, basketball, College of Charleston
Trey Moss, basketball, University of South Florida
Ayana Powell, softball, West Florida University
Texie Loyd, equestrian, University of South Carolina