If last Friday’s tilt with St. Joseph Academy (St. Augustine) is Windermere High School's last first home game at Deputy Scott Pine Community Park, the Wolverines are leaving their home stadium with a bang.
On the strength of their running game, the Wolverines pummeled St. Joseph 41-0 in front of a raucous home crowd Friday, Sept. 1.
Head football coach Riki Smith said he thought the team came out to play early and was physical on the field.
“We need to do a better job of finishing in the second half and not getting complacent because of the score,” he said. “All in all, I was proud of them. They are a special group of kids.”
Spirit, passion and drive have led the Windermere Wolverine community through its fight for an on-campus stadium.
WHS, which opened in 2017 on Winter-Garden Vineland Road, was built in a rural settlement with strict guidelines. Because of this factor, all home football games have been played a mile away at Scott Pine.
“Though I’m sure we will be excited for a new chapter of seasons and games, and the opportunity to make new traditions and establish new standards of excellence on our home field, my team, nor I, are even focused on next year’s transitional season,” Smith said. “I’m sure there will be time at the end of this year’s season to reminisce, reflect and even memorialize the historic site and student experiences on the Scott Pine field.
“However, currently, my focus is not on the new field, the transition, or where my team may be playing, but rather my focus is on my student players and building the kind of team that can play and win anywhere,” he said “I do pray that wherever we are our team will bring a philosophy of striving to be the best and reach our potential in everything we do. We will also take with us the atmosphere that our fans currently bring to the games each week.”
For six years, parents and students have voiced concerns about the safety, parking and other challenges faced on Friday nights.
Orange County Public Schools and Orange County Government held the joint meeting to announce an update on the proposal for the new stadium Wednesday, Aug. 23.
The project is to build a permanent stadium with 1,852 seats on the current track and practice field. The plans include an 1,872-square-foot building, ticket booth, restrooms, concessions, athletic storage containers and four new LED light poles to replace six existing poles. The basketball court and long jump area will be relocated.
Games at the new stadium would begin at 7 p.m. Friday and end no later than 11 p.m.
Lighting and noise concerns from neighboring residents were addressed at the recent August meeting.
The project will go before Orange County’s Board of Zoning Adjustment Sept. 7, and the public hearing is tentatively planned for the Orange County Board of County Commissioners’ Oct. 24 agenda.
If the stadium is approved by the BCC, procurement and construction would begin in November, and the stadium would be ready for Friday night games by August 2024.
Smith said the new field will be home to pride and tradition that will never be forgotten.
“There will be a wonderful atmosphere and intimacy about playing at the home school,” he said. “True home-field advantage. Home school is relative to where students go to school and live — and not in contrast to the local community. I’m sure that when the time comes, I will feel both blessed and honored to be the first to coach on the new home field and to have been part of something special. I’m sure it will be encouraging to see the district and community plans for transition to our new home field come to fruition both symbolically and realistically. The move will reflect the standard of excellence that is Windermere High School.”
Parent Jane Benner has felt the stadium pains. She was a part of the original parent group that lobbied for the high school starting in 2012.
Benner currently has a junior football player at the school, and a graduate who was in the band and part of the school’s first graduating class. She also has one younger son who plays football and is set to attend the school in the future.
“While I suppose I should say we’re grateful for having a nice field like Deputy Scott Pine Park to play in these past six seasons, I really just feel relieved that the athletes, the coaches, the band and the fans will finally have their first true home opening game at their true home field on the Windermere High School campus,” she said. “They can focus their energy on game day rather than on the distractions and all the background ‘noise’ of safely moving equipment and people a mile down the road. … It’s been a long-time coming, and the faithful deserve to come home.”
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