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Guess Who’s Going to the Super Bowl? Lake Wales Junior Highlanders Go to State Championship and Beyond!

by James Coulter

They only lost two games this season, but even with a record of 8-2, the Lake Wales Jr. Highlanders are on the road to the Super Bowl.

“They only lost two games in the season, but we take those losses as a learning opportunity,” said Eric Stoudemire, Athletic Director for the Jr. Highlanders. “By overcoming adversity, you learn from your mistakes and get better. So, the kids lift their heads and keep moving forward. It got us where we are at.”

The Jr. Highlanders are competing in a league with more than 50 teams. For them to be able to compete with athletes on a high level is nothing short of a miraculous accomplishment, Stoudemire boasted.

Stoudemire and his colleagues started the Lake Wales Athletic and Education Association to help middle-grade student-athletes prepare for competing on the high school level. With the Lake Wales Highlanders winning state last year for the first time, they wanted to prepare young kids with the proper material necessary to achieve that same goal.

“We know that every kid won’t be attending Lake Wales High School, but we want to prepare them for any high school they attend for the next level,” Stoudemire said. “The game of football is so competitive, but we have a great thing going. The league that we play in is very competitive as well. The kids get a lot of exposure. Every game that we play, the kids gain experience where they can [play against] future five-star players.”

As with any good student-athlete program, the organization focuses on the “student” part of the student-athlete first, ensuring that their players are making the grade as well as making the play. However, regardless of how well they do in the classroom, the players nevertheless benefit from being on the field if it means keeping them off the streets and out of trouble, Stoudemire said.

“We know that in those two hours a day out of the week, we have those kids in our possession, and we know those kids are not out in the street, they are not sitting around with negative thoughts on their mind and all that,” he said. “So, with that program, it keeps the kids busy and it keeps them under adult supervision so that we know where they are. If they are not at school, they are on the field practicing with us.”

Stoudemire owes their success thus far to the hard work and effort provided by the coaches and the parents. However, he feels their organization could receive more support from the city and the community.

Moreover, he hopes that the experience and lessons they are providing to their student-athletes will help them to grow into upstanding young men and women who will become productive members of their community.

“We all pray that our kids become successful and they give back like we give back,” he said. “We want these kids to open doors for the elderly, we want them to have manners, so we are teaching

kids to be successful and meet their goals. It is not just football. We have young men and women, young boys and girls, who will become young men and women, so we want to put them on the path to become what they need to be.”

Currently, the Junior Highlanders are having a fundraiser hosted by a local philanthropist to help cover their costs traveling to the state championship. To learn more about this fundraiser and how you can contribute, visit their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/SeahawksLW

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Staff Reporter

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