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Hernando High Holds Celebration Honoring Wrestlers

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Earlier this month, schools from around the country competed at the FHSAA State Wrestling Tournaments in Kissimmee, Florida. Four out of the five in-county high schools sent athletes to the event, but only one emerged victorious. The Hernando Leopards brought a total of 14 wrestlers, with nine representing the girls’ team and five representing the boys. On Thursday, March 21, Hernando High held a parade dedicated to the girls’ and boys’ squads for their accomplishments at the tournament.

The school was looking to recognize, specifically, the winning of the Purple and Gold’s first team state championship in the girls’ wrestling program’s existence. It was more than that, though, as it was the first state championship by any team at the school in 27 years, and it was wrestler Grace Leota’s second individual state title in her career. Six of the nine girls who competed on the mat placed as they contributed to the team’s 104.5-point title win. The boys’ squad saw a pair of athletes place, though they did not see quite the level of success that their female counterparts had.

Each player who placed on either team had their own vehicle to ride in at the parade as well as a vehicle for the girls who qualified but did not receive a medal. There were also a pair of floats as part of the celebration: one with the high school team and one with the youth wrestling club. The Leopards’ band and cheerleaders were featured in the festivities as they helped to recognize the athletic milestone. The local sheriff’s office and firefighters were involved in the parade as well.

The parade began at the elementary school, with students lining the sidewalk. The procession circled its way around the front of the school with the high school students flooding Howell Road. It was not just students, though, as the community came out to show their support and congratulate the players.

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Grace Leota hopes that this moment will signal future success for Hernando’s wrestling program.
“It was amazing to see the support the Brooksville community showed for our girls’ team,” Grace Leota said. “Hopefully, through seeing this support from the faculty at Hernando and Brooksville, we cemented a legacy for future generations of girls and boys to succeed in this amazing sport of wrestling for Hernando High School.”

Now that the threshold has been crossed and the girls’ program has its title, increased emphasis and support from the administration could possibly attract more donors and talent and give Head Coach David Pritz and company more opportunities to take the top spot. Hernando’s assistant wrestling coach, Heaven-Leigh Jackson, felt Thursday’s celebration was momentous and was appreciative of everyone showing up for the Leopards.

“It was a historic moment […] the girls were soaking in the moment of being the first state championship wrestling team in school history and the first to achieve this feat in 27 years,” Coach Heaven-Leigh said. “The outpouring of support from the school, community, and fans at the celebratory parade showcased the unity and pride that resonates throughout our town.”

State Placer Emma Bauknight at Hernando Wrestling Victory Parade. [Photography by Cynthia Leota]
State Placer Makenzie Eltzroth at Hernando Wrestling Victory Parade. [Photography by Cynthia Leota]
State Placer Chloe Stinnett at Hernando Wrestling Victory Parade. [Photography by Cynthia Leota]
State Placer Sydney Bridenstine at Hernando Wrestling Victory Parade.
[Photography by Cynthia Leota]
State Placer Mariah Earl at Hernando Wrestling Victory Parade. [Photography by Cynthia Leota]
State Placer Shaw Garrett at Hernando Wrestling Victory Parade. [Photography by Cynthia Leota]
State Placer Morgan Johnston at Hernando Wrestling Victory Parade. [Photography by Cynthia Leota]
Hernando High School Wrestlers wave to crowd at Hernando Wrestling Victory Parade. [Photography by Cynthia Leota]
Hernando Cheerleaders at Hernando Wrestling Victory Parade. [Photography by Cynthia Leota]
2 x State Champion Grace Leota waves to crowd at Hernando Wrestling Victory Parade. [Photography by Cynthia Leota]

Sydney Bridenstine and Chloe Stinnett blow bubbles for Brooksville Elementary students at Hernando Wrestling Victory Parade while Coach David Pritz passes out candy. [Photography by Cynthia Leota]
State Qualifiers Julia Salgado-Campos and Daniela Espinal at Hernando Wrestling Victory Parade. [Photography by Cynthia Leota]
Hernando Cheerleader and Leopard Mascot give out high fives Brooksville Elementary school children. [Photography by Cynthia Leota]
Hernando Wrestling Club youth team. [Photography by Cynthia Leota]

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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