HENDRY COUNTY — On the weekend of April 19-21, a team of students from Clewiston High School and LaBelle High School went to Disney in Orlando to compete in the statewide Commissioner’s Academic Challenge, where they took home first place in Division III.
This year’s Hendry County Academic Team consisted of handpicked students from both LaBelle and Clewiston high schools. Those students are Lazaro Sandoval (LaBelle), Jesus Almaraz-Argueta (Clewiston), Eduardo Fox (Clewiston), Alberto Cabana (LaBelle) and John Eaton (Clewiston).
Coaches included teachers from both high schools: Bernard Pinero (Clewiston), Lauren Kriczky (Clewiston), and Johnathan Williams (LaBelle).
This is the first time since the competition’s inception 33 years ago that Hendry County has won, putting the students’ names in the record books for this outstanding academic achievement. The team trained diligently throughout the school year in preparation for this competition.
Through generous donations from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the H.E. Hill Foundation, and U.S. Sugar, they were able to finance their entry into this prestigious event.
Sanctioned by the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA), the Commissioner’s Academic Challenge is a highly competitive, statewide tournament for high school students that began in 1986.
During this three-day tournament, students are asked a series of questions related to a wide range of subjects, including language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, the fine arts, world languages (French and Spanish), physical education, health and technology.
“There was a lot of pressure when I walked into the competition, and I was really nervous, but once you start it gets fun and you start to find your niche,” said student and team member John Eaton. “The competition was very challenging, and we went up against many intelligent students, but we overcame it and as a team grew as well.”
All of the students received $500 in scholarships, with Lazaro Sandoval winning $1,500 and the opportunity to join Team Florida.
The team members also received Herff Jones State Championship rings, medallions awarded by the FHSAA, certificates of excellence and a district trophy awarded to Hendry County for being 2018 state champions.
“This is a big deal, and it says a lot about the educational system and the improvements that are being made in Hendry County,” Hendry County Academic Team Coach Bernard Pinero said.
“The fact that students from our area can compete with the best around the state, and not only hold our own but actually win the tournament and be declared state champions, is a testament to our students and their capabilities, not to mention how hard they worked for it.
“It has bolstered their confidence, reminding them that just because they are from a smaller county doesn’t mean they can’t do big things,” Mr. Pinero added.