FORECAST 2024: New athletic facilities at Windermere High, Windermere Prep are monumentous for programs’ futures

The heap of athletic upgrades for Windermere Prep and an on-campus stadium for Windermere High coming in 2024 is a legacy-defining moment for both athletic departments.

The new athletic fields will include two sand volleyball courts and a brand new track.
The new athletic fields will include two sand volleyball courts and a brand new track.
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With every new year, there comes a general sense of newness, a sense of the unknown, a feeling that a never-before-seen, felt or heard experience is right on the horizon. 

In 2024, both Windermere High School and Windermere Preparatory School athletics will see the building of their lasting mark, the start of a lifetime-long legacy in the form of new and upgraded facilities that will help both schools’ sports programs thrive.

For the Wolverines of Windermere High, an Oct. 24, 2023, Orange County Commission meeting saw the approval of a 1,850-seat, $3 million on-campus stadium that is estimated to be ready for football season this year. 

As for the Lakers of Windermere Prep, the new year will bring the introduction of a plethora of new athletic facilities and infrastructure upgrades that span across various sports — including a new multi-sport artificial turf field; installation of a rubberized track; an expanded weight room; and revamped hardwood floors in the gymnasium.

These new developments mark an important moment for the two schools but for different reasons. For Windermere Prep, it’s a physical representation of the mindset that drives the Lakers. For Windermere High, it is a long-awaited homecoming. 

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In team sports, when individuals play for themselves and fail to sacrifice for the team, it usually does not produce quality play. 

But when a team has players, coaches and even equipment managers who understand what they need to do individually to help the team succeed and accomplish the team’s goals, then something special can happen. 

That collection of individuals becomes one. That group begins to represent something bigger than the sum of its parts.

That is a concept Windermere Prep athletics has tried to embody: A mantra of unitas — the Latin term for unity or oneness. 

“It’s always been a consistent model of this unitas mindset, the unity of a whole school,” Windermere Prep Director of Athletics Patrick Hollern said. “We’re looking at groups of individuals, and we’re asking them to come together and play for one another. The result of that approach equals consistent play and identity throughout our program. So for us, when a Windermere Prep team takes the field, we want people to understand what being a Laker and playing for Windermere Prep … means because you’re not just representing your team, you’re representing kids from grades pre-K through 12th grade. You’re representing a larger-scale community.”

However, according to Windermere Prep’s Head of School Dr. Mitchell Salerno, the unitas philosophy can only work if everyone — including the administration — is held to that same standard. 

“Why do you invest in facilities, why do you put money into a new track or a new artificial surface on the field?” Salerno said. “It’s because, if we ask our teams to be unified, then they need to feel that unity across the campus. That feeling of unity comes down to their facilities, how they feel when they walk out onto a surface or how they feel when they run on a track or when they’re practicing. We want to give them the best that we can possibly give them.” 

So when it came time for the school to meet its unitas standard and undertake a sweeping upgrade to its athletics facilities, the administration did what Salerno said and gave their athletes the best facilities they could.

The renovations include an upgraded strength and conditioning room, which includes a 500-square-foot expansion; a refinish of the tennis facility and basketball courts; and the addition of a rubberized track and a turf field at the stadium.

The much-needed facilities upgrade provides Windermere Prep’s athletes the chance to perfect their craft in the proper environment.

Salerno recalls an experience he had with a girls track athlete that encapsulates that idea.

“I was down at the track the other day, and I asked some of the kids how they are liking it,” he said. “And then one girl pulls out her track cleats and she’s like, ‘I can finally wear my track spikes on our track.’ That’s a big deal. This is a high-quality athlete who really wants to run and improve, and now she can use the proper shoes on the surface.”

Beyond the new facilities and their practical applications, Salerno knows that this unitas mantra isn’t about the short-term success of these student-athletes on their field of play, or even what these upgrades will provide in the long-term for the school. 

Unitas is an idea that gets students to buy into something bigger than themselves, in the hopes that they become better people down the road.

“From a head of school perspective, yes, I want our athletes to be excellent and certainly I’m very competitive and I want to win, but I also want our students to grow up to become fabulous young people,” Salerno said. “Most of our athletes aren’t going professional … but all of our young people are going to be partners, mothers, fathers, friends, colleagues and citizens. They’re going to be people who interact with other human beings. So we want to develop a program that allows them to become the best human beings they can possibly be, and part of that is providing them with excellent facilities and excellent people to be around them.”

Ultimately, the new field, track, weight room and other upgrades — and even the unitas philosophy — serve one purpose: Help Windermere Prep students grow into great people.


Windermere High football coach Riki Smith knows something about construction. 

“With construction, it’s all about the slab,” he said. “You have to get a solid foundation. You have to grade it, then you have to dig, you have to put plumbing in underground, the electrical, then you do your rebar and eventually you pour a concrete slab.” 

Smith knows that before you start building, you have that foundation set and in place. So, when he took over the program in 2022, that’s exactly what he did. 

“Everything was about building that slab in Year 1,” he said. “Just build. We were building the slab, we were building our foundation. That’s all that we did in Year 1.”

After the foundation is set, you want to do is understand what you are trying to build. So, this past season, Smith pushed his team to focus on developing a vision for what the program should look like when it is built.

“We’ve built the foundation, so now we want to attach the vision for what our standard of the program is,” Smith said. “When you think of a good football program, it has a certain standard, it has high expectations.

“We’re focusing on building our standard, and we don’t care what other people say,” he said. “We’re just going to build this standard. It’s going to be high, and as the coach, I’m going to hold my players to it, and that means some people are going to quit, some are going to leave and some people aren’t going to be able to cut it, and that’s fine. But the ones who stay are going to continue to do things up to our standard and eventually, good things are going to happen.”

Smith, in what now seems like a “Field of Dreams” reference, was right: If you build it, he will come. Except in this movie, what’s being built is a winning culture for Windermere football and what’s coming is a new on-campus stadium. 

For Smith and his team, the stadium represents more than a patch of grass and stands. It’s a chance to build a legacy, to build a home after only knowing a nomadic existence. Windermere has played its home games at Deputy Scott Pine Community Park, a bit more than a mile down the road from campus. 

Offensive lineman Noah Wright, a Bucknell University signee, is one of the members of this year’s graduating class who never will get to play for the Wolverines at their new stadium but knows the work he and his fellow seniors put in help set the foundation for Windermere’s new home. 

“When it first happened, I was kind of in the mindset, like, ‘Oh, I’m not gonna get to use it, like, how does this affect me,’” he said. “But then when I saw how much Coach Smith is looking forward to it, and how much the younger guys are looking forward to it … I got super excited. It means a lot to me that we were able to help lay the foundation for the underclassmen. Hopefully, they can take this program, and get more people to buy into this team, more people to come and support them at games and create a true Friday Night Lights experience for the generations to come. I never really got that experience, so I’m excited that they’ll be able to live that for me, as I move on to the next step.”

With the new stadium on its way, Smith sees this development as a great thing for the community and as a huge step in the program’s progression. 

“I find myself thinking about it, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself,” he said. “I think it is great for the community. It’s great for the student body at the school, and I think it’s great for our players. I get my satisfaction from the kids being excited about being able to play at their own stadium … on campus and being able to build traditions. It’s an exciting time. I’m just thankful to be the head coach of Windermere.”



Sam Albuquerque

A native of João Pessoa, Brazil, Sam Albuquerque moved in 1997 to Central Florida as a kid. After earning a communications degree in 2016 from the University of Central Florida, he started his career covering sports as a producer for a local radio station, ESPN 580 Orlando. He went on to earn a master’s degree in editorial journalism from Northwestern University, before moving to South Carolina to cover local sports for the USA Today Network’s Spartanburg Herald-Journal. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his lovely wife, Sarah, newborn son, Noah, and dog named Skulí.

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