The Horizon High Athletic Department had a record-breaking year during its second year as an established program. Six teams earned district championships, and three secured metro championships.
“Typically, new schools struggle for a couple of years, they struggle to find identity, they struggle to find consistency and be competitive,” Athletic Director Scott Drabczyk said. “For us, it’s been absolutely amazing to have the success that our kids have had so early on, and that’s a credit to them and it’s a credit to our community. ... Has it been a little unexpected? I think it has been. It’s not common to have that kind of success early on, but it’s — again — a credit to the kids and their families and to our coaches. We have amazing coaches.”
Starting an athletic program from scratch requires hard work and a good selection of athletic staff that wants to be part of something bigger than themselves and truly care about the word, “We.”
“We talk about how the team is bigger than the individual here,” Drabczyk said. “Every decision we make, every plan that we make, every chess piece that we try to move, all comes back to having great people involved with these programs and always before anything else, focusing on the student-athlete experience and what it’s going to benefit the student-athlete.”
With almost 700 student-athletes involved in sports, the athletic department has begun to solidify, but there is work ahead, and coaches are aware of it.
“Some of us coaches really expected that it was going to take some time, and we were OK with that,” head girls volleyball coach Earnest Rittenhouse said. “We (were) going to get beat for a few years while we build something, and it’s going to be fun. So, it was a little surprising to have immediate success in that sense, and some of that is very fortunate, if you want to call it luck. … We are still patient; we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We still understand that we are not at full capacity.”
Since its inception, the mission of the athletic department at Horizon has been to offer student-athletes the opportunity to create memorable championship experiences. So far, mission accomplished.
“We want to win championships; we are not going to say we’re creating this program just to have it,” Drabczyk said. “We want to be successful and we know that we can’t win every game, but we are going to do everything we can to put our kids in a position to be successful and then to create memories. We want them to look back at their experience over their years in school and say, ‘I really miss it; I loved being there.’ When that’s your focus — when your goal and your mission is to create really memorable experiences for kids — people want to be a part of that.”
A PLACE TO BELONG
When interviewing coaches, Drabczyk sought two attributes: energy and a pure love for the sport.
“We want people that have great energy, that want to come to work every day,” Drabczyk said. “When you are a coach at the high school level, you don’t make a lot of money. It’s a very much a labor of love. You are doing it because you love coaching, you love being around the sport and you love kids. … We want detailed-oriented leaders, people (who) understand the importance of the smallest little detail and how that adds up to the big picture of the program. We want planners, people that are forward-thinking visionaries … and coaches who want to do things at a high level.”
Of course, Drabczyk attributes the Hawks’ success to the students — and specifically the Class of 2023.
“This year, having that junior class now become seniors, they were more mature, and that really attributed to a lot of our success, because of the leadership that our kids showed,” he said. “So, it’s almost immeasurable for us to be able to truly measure that growth. Quantifiably, you can look at wins and losses and championships, and those are the byproduct really of all the things that happen behind the scenes.”
To continue growing, the Horizon High Athletic Department has developed a sense of belonging for all its student-athletes, which will help with attracting more athletes in upcoming years.
“The (student-athletes) need to feel they have a place they belong,” Rittenhouse said. “They need to feel the philosophies and cultural rights that they can have fun but still are playing to win or that they have a chance. You don’t win all your games, but at least you feel you have a shot at it with this school, and the school is supportive.”
One thing that makes Horizon High unique? The school does not talk about culture. Instead, the Hawks address how climate fits better with its mission.
“We talk more about climate, and climate is easy to quantify,” Drabczyk said. “Do our coaches enjoy coming to work? Do our student-athletes enjoy coming to practice and to the games? Climate is the way you feel when you are part of an organization. … That drives our decision-making. Our kids enjoying being a part of this program; our parents enjoying being a part of this program. That’s how we evaluate the direction that we are heading.”
Staff writer Andrea Mujica covers sports, news and features. She holds both a bachelor's degree in journalism and an MBA from the University of Central Florida. When she’s not on the sidelines, you can find Andrea coaching rowers at the Orlando Area Rowing Society in Windermere.