JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dozens of coaches and student-athletes from 17 Gateway Conference schools were honored Monday night at the Florida Theatre.
Among the honors handed out were the all-sports trophies for boys and girls sports, both won by Mandarin High School. Mandarin outscored Fletcher and Stanton to win the girls’ trophy and topped Fletcher and Sandalwood for the boys’ trophy.
One outstanding coach from each sport was honored with the Mike Houser Award. Among the winners was O.J. Small, who announced this winter that he’s stepping aside from coaching football at Riverside High School. Fletcher coach Brad Plummer, who led the Senators to the state championship, won for girls soccer.
Englewood volleyball coach Cynthia Bateh won the Bernard Wilkes award, given to the coach who “exemplifies the enthusiasm, charisma, sportsmanship, genuine sincerity in caring for his/her athletes, and other qualities that made Coach Wilkes such a find ambassador in his sport and the Conference.”
Mandarin athlete Ellie Jackson was honored for earning all-Gateway Conference honors in three sports, Volleyball, Girls Basketball, and Flag Football.
Eight athletes were honored for earning all-Gateway Conference for four years in a sport: boys swimmers Gate Hulbert (Mandarin), Drew Salls (Sandalwood) and Elisha Dees (White). Alyssa Wyatt (Mandarin girls cross country), Manyi Ngu (Stanton girls golf), Josey Rossignol (Fletcher girls soccer), De’Quon King (Raines wrestling) and Charley Mims (Parker baseball).
The Gateway Conference has been around since the 1950s and the awards show has been held nearly as long. This year, eight state champions, seven individuals plus Fletcher girls soccer were honored as well.
“Every year, we want to make this bigger and better,” said Tammie Talley, Duval County Public Schools athletic director. “We have won so many state championships this year in the Duval County Public Schools. So being able to celebrate not only gateway conference championships but state championships through the FHSAA, I think is really exciting.”
Why all of the championships this year? It actually started last spring when seven state track and field championships were won by Gateway Conference schools and athletes. The trend continued into this school year.
“I just think it’s our kids are working harder maybe after what we went through a couple of years ago where people were sitting at home and we weren’t playing sports, and maybe that just lit a fire under some of them and got them excited to work a little bit harder,” Talley said. “We are super excited to be celebrating them.”