Sports writer Roger LaLonde spoke with some of the Marco Island Academy football players and cheerleaders. They had the opportunity to talk about their significance in being athletes and representing their school as they rode a bus to Moore Haven for a football game on Sept. 26.
Sports, education and community topped their agendas.
Pass catcher and running back Cole Stretton and offensive linemen Bon Dees said sports and education are main factors for them to be at MIA. Stretton, a junior, plays football, basketball and baseball.
“I like it here for the sports opportunities and also our block system for education,” Stretton said.
Comparing Lely High, as both players did, they like the 90-minute classes at MIA than the 40-minute classes at Lely. “It is just easier to learn because you have more time to concentrate on a subject,” Stretton said.
Dees agreed. He transferred from Lely. “I came to MIA just as much for education as sports,” he said. “Compared to Lely, the block schedule gives you a better chance in learning the subject. We also have Manta Mentoring that helps.
Students meet in small groups, 12-15 students, every day for 25 minutes with one of the staff members. They have a variety of different subjects they cover and form a unique bond with the small group and teacher.”
Dees’ aspirations are to get a good education and see his Manta Rays become a top area team. “Playing college football is my goal to a free education,” he said. “If I don’t go on in (professional) sports, I will have my education as my back-up plan.”
Greg Fowler, first-year football coach and an award-winning teacher, knows the importance of the two. “Sports teach students commitment and work ethic.” He said. “An education is the most important thing a young person will receive. The commitment and strong work ethic they learn through sports, paired with their education, will be the foundation for their future.”
Jane Watt, founder and chairperson of the MIA Board, agrees. “Athletics are important because they teach students about hard work, dedication, teamwork and competition. They also increase school spirit for the entire student body, which makes school more fun. Mr. (Roger) Raymond has done an excellent job establishing a comprehensive athletic program at MIA. I am looking forward to watching the sports programs continue to grow and flourish.”
Cheer co-captains Haley Havemeier, Meagan Reisinger and Blake Dehooghe talked about their roles. Havemeier, a Marco Island Charter Middle School graduate, likes her MIA choice: “I wanted to stay on theIsland, and I really like it (MIA). I am part of establishing the school. (Sports) brings fans and the community together to support us and see us grow. The students and community are more connected. We know many people.”
Blake Dehooghe came from the Detroit area. “I wanted a smaller school than Lely,” she said. “It has been what I expected. It is very welcoming, more of a family.”
When a game is close “I get excited,” she said. “Cheering feeds off the fans and players. At the end of the night, win or lose, I am happy for my role as a cheerleader.”
Meagan Reisingeer, also a Charter School graduate, said, “I like being in a smaller school, playing a small part in helping to build the school’s reputation. Here are different aspects to the sport of cheerleading. As a team member I like being part of it all.”
Cheer coach Lori Galiana was asked by Raymond three year ago to help pick a team of cheerleaders for MIA. “We had four girls come to tryouts, and I took them all on the team. We were later able to find one more girl. It was a very lean team.”
In 2013, the team grew to 11 girls, and “we finally had two complete stunt groups and started to really be able to perform,” Galiana said. “This year, we are not just larger in size with 13 girls, but we have blossomed into a full-blown team. The girls are very close, and the team building shines through in the way they perform. They are in sync and love to hang out together.”
Galiana is very proud of them and the effort they put into their team. “We are now expanding into more community service work as a team,” she said. “Any of our cheerleaders can give you a lesson on how a ‘team first’ attitude must prevail and how important it is to be a true leader in your community. People don’t make fun of us anymore, more and more want to join us.”
Preston Reese, defensive tackle: “I played as a sophomore and senior. The team is more organized. Coach is strict, but good. We have good potential. Think we are better than people think. It’s a challenge for me because I am lighter than opponents, weighing 165. When we played against Community School, we got so pumped that we tired out trying so hard. Cole, Patrick, Tyler and Cayden give us strong offensive opportunities.”
Reeves Carlisle, linebacaker, played sophomore and senior year, “WE are bigger, stronger and playing teams at our level. First year, I played quarterback and running back.” (In his sophomore year, players were freshman to juniors, no senior class.) “We have to play our hardest and try our best, then see how it turns out.” (had to set out junior year due to concussions sophomore season):
Andrew Delgado, center, junior, has played on all three football teams: “First year was very difficult because of learning process. We had to teach people how to play on offensive line. This team has clicked; we are much better and have a chance to win more games.”
Anton Mertens, kicker, junior and played as a sophomore, from Cologne, West Germany: “I like the family atmosphere of the school and team. It’s different than soccer, and I like the intensity.”
Tyler Wallace, tight end, leads team in receptions, transferred from Lely: He feels he and Fowler connect well and that this team is closeknit, more like friends. “We have great team spirit, all trying to win together. Can’t wait for day they beat a big team. We’ll be so happy.”
Cayden Couture, running back, sophomore: “The team has improved skills; we have a better understanding of the game…I get nervous but zone out when game begins. My main goal is to have winning season and make playoffs.”
Cole Stretton, wide receiver and tail back, basketball three years, football two: “I like the educational 90-minute block system. It’s easier to learn, and here you get the opportunity to play varsity sooner than at larger school…Being a key player there is always pressure. You have to have right mind set. I want to win. I hate losing. I like the way the game changes and what we have to do to be competitive in all sports.”
Kyle Gunther, guard, sophomore: “Everyone knows more, know the plays and has a better understanding of what to do. I am not undersized. The goal is to not let anyone get past me. With a linebacker coming, I have to speed up engagement. This team has grown as a family; we have good camaraderie. No cliques here; one big family.”
Andrew Fowler, quarterback, sophomore, coach’s son: “It’s really fun at MIA. Everyone asks me to do things. Me and dad know we have talent. I was shocked how big the line is. Whether my first or fourth game, I still gets nervous. First game was to make sure I knew the basics, know what each of us does, and we are beginning to jell on the field.”