When Ocala Style assigned me to interview some of Marion County’s top student athletes, I turned to athletic directors and coaches from public and private schools across the county. They responded enthusiastically, nominating students who not only stand out in their chosen sport(s) but also excel academically and personally. Due to space constraints, we faced the challenge of narrowing down that impressive list to just one student per school.
Active in their schools and communities, these teens represent the best of their generation. Speaking with these articulate, gracious and motivated individuals, I felt renewed hope for our country’s future. Read on, and enjoy their inspiring stories.
Vanguard High School
17 / Senior / Volleyball, Track & Field
When the Vanguard Knights’ volleyball team won the 6-A state championships last season, junior Madison Murvin was just as thrilled that they also won the academic state championships.
The volleyball victory was especially sweet, as Madison was seriously injured in a freak accident while working out during pre-season. She cut her leg doing box jumps and sliced a ligament in half. The injury required four inner stitches and 21 outer stitches (“It looks just like a shark bite!”) and put her in a leg brace. Fortunately, the leg healed well, and after rehab, she was able to rejoin her team mid-season.
“One of the reasons we won state is because we’re so close,” says Madison, who’s been playing volleyball since seventh grade. “It’s not just who has the best players but who has the best team.”
Madison also loves her close-knit 4×800 relay team, which made it to track and field regionals.
“They’re such awesome teammates and super encouraging,” says Madison, who competed in long jump, triple jump and 400 meter during the season.
Born and raised in Ocala, this history lover is commanding officer of the Vanguard NJROTC and wants to be a military liaison; she hopes to attend the Naval Academy.
She was accepted to summer seminars this year at both the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy. Out of 8,000 applicants, the Air Force chose only 600 and the Navy chose 2,400.
“I wanted to apply to both to make sure the Navy was my right choice. It was definitely a good experience because I could compare campuses, professors and locations,” says Madison, whose GPA is 4.83.
She takes International Baccalaureate (IB) classes and is a self-professed bookworm with over 1,600 books on her Kindle.
As a sophomore, Madison was chosen as the Vanguard representative for the HOBY (Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership) team. She represented her school at the state conference in Tallahassee and then in Chicago at the world leadership conference, which was attended by some 400 students from countries around the world.
This final year at Vanguard, Madison hopes to be part of another state championship-winning volleyball team. She’d also like to guide her NJROTC group to their state championship and see some of their members compete in national competitions.
Sounds about right for someone who wants to be remembered as “driven, fair and a role model for doing the right thing.”
17 / Senior / Basketball, Baseball
Basketball has been a huge part of Monty Wilson’s life since third grade, and it’s now helping to launch his college career. One of the top scorers on the Meadowbrook Academy team, he’s scored as many as 30 points in one game. He also plays center field on the baseball team, but basketball remains his favorite sport.
“I really like the teamwork aspect and having to depend on other people in order to have success,” says Monty, who is an Ocala native.
“I’m hoping for a scholarship in basketball; I’ve already had some coaches look at me, and it’s looking great,” says Monty, who is especially interested in Warner University in Lake Wales and Lee University in Tennessee, both of which are Christian colleges. “I want to go into sports medicine, but music is a hobby and has always been a part of my life, so I may also go into that in college. My parents were both in a rock-and-roll band, and my family (including sister, Torrey) sings a lot.”
For his senior year, Monty, whose favorite subject is history, plans to maintain a high GPA (it’s currently 4.75) and keep playing hard on the court, but that’s not all.
“The biggest thing I want to do is help younger classmen,” he says. “I had good leadership from the older guys, and I want to do that. I want to be remembered not as the popular one but to be respected by my classmates as the leader who was always there for people and looking out for them.”
Monty is also active in his church, Wings of Faith Fellowship located in the Shores, and recently went on a youth mission trip to Honduras.
“We stayed for two weeks, worked with the kids and helped build a small school,” he says. “Everything in my life is about my faith in God.”
North Marion High School
17 / Senior / Football, Track, Weightlifting
Competing in three sports keeps James Roberts busy enough that he doesn’t have much time for hobbies. But that’s OK, because this high school senior is devoted to his game, which, in his case, is football.
Born in Gainesville and raised in Ocala, James has been playing football since seventh grade, started running track in eighth grade and began weightlifting in 10th grade. He’s happiest on the football field, however, where he plays running back (his favorite position) and linebacker.
“What I like most is winning, of course, but I just love the game of football so much and being out there with my team,” says James. “I’m proud of the fact that I’ve improved each and every year, never going backward and always progressing.”
James, whose favorite subject is math, has taken AICE program classes (Advanced International Certificate of Education) since sixth grade and throughout high school.
“You have to put more work into it, but I’ve done well,” says this hard-working student athlete.
In his senior year, James hopes North Marion’s football team makes it to the state championships.
“We’ve been fighting for it so long and have a good chance this year. I also hope to get a college scholarship so I can go on to play at the next level,” notes James, who would like to have a career in the medical field. He plans to attend community college for two years and finish at the University of Florida, where he hopes to play Gator football.
When people look back at his high school years, James hopes they remember him as the guy with the positive outlook.
“I always have an optimistic view,” he says. “Even in the worst situation, there’s always something good.”
Forest High School
17 / Senior / Cheerleading
Born on a military base in North Carolina, Kelby Bean has lived in Ocala since she was a toddler. After starting gymnastics, she switched to cheerleading at age 6. Over time, she branched out into challenging all-star competitions, in addition to cheering for her school. Eleven years later, the vivacious teen has won numerous state all-star cheerleading events and has also competed nationally.
“This past season, we made it to the Summit, which is an invitational national competition, and we placed fifth. It was a great accomplishment,” says Kelby. “I love the feeling of being with the team; that’s where I’ve made my closest friends.”
As a sophomore and junior, Kelby received the Principal’s Award.
“I was proud to be recognized, not just as a cheerleader, but for having a high GPA,” she says. “I don’t want to be defined as a cheerleader or a ‘nerd’ but as a well-rounded student who fits in with different groups.”
With a current GPA of 4.65, Kelby is also a dual-enrollment student at the College of Central Florida.
“I don’t have many class requirements left for high school, so I’m only taking two classes this year and then taking college algebra and history at CF,” says Kelby, whose favorite subject is math. “I really want to do a lot of volunteering and club activities as a senior.”
Busy as she is with her studies and cheering, Kelby loves running with her dad, an active-duty Marine who’s been a huge influence in her life.
Although she hopes to cheer in college, she doesn’t have any intention of cheering for the NFL.
“I plan to go to Florida State University and be in the ROTC program,” Kelby says. “I’m actually going for the NROTC scholarship for the Marine Corps. I want to be a Marine Corps Officer.”
Trinity Catholic High School
17 / Senior / Baseball
Doing his best—whether in sports or academics—has always been the goal for Jesse Lepore. This outstanding baseball player, who has a GPA of 4.56, has made nothing less than an ‘A’ throughout his first three years of high school and last season led Trinity’s baseball team to the sport’s Final Four.
“I’ve always had a baseball in my hand,” says Jesse, who started T-ball at age 4 and has been playing baseball ever since. Born in Staten Island, New York, Jesse moved to Florida at age 8 and lives in Crystal River.
Although he plays pitcher, short stop and second base, he’s verbally committed as a pitcher to the University of Miami where he plans to major in a sports-related field, such as sports management or sports medicine. He’s getting an athletic scholarship and hopes to get an academic scholarship, as well.
“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve believed you have to excel on and off the field,” says Jesse, whose favorite subject is math.
Although he plays some golf and likes hanging out with friends, baseball takes up much of Jesse’s free time, not that he’s complaining.
This summer he was one of 144 high school students from across the country chosen to participate in the Tournament of Stars in North Carolina.
During his last year of high school, he hopes to have his best year yet on the field.
“I want to hear my name in the Major League Baseball draft so I can pursue my dream, but we won’t know that until June,” says Jesse.
“I want to be remembered as the friendly kid who was always accommodating and there for anybody who needed me,” he adds, “and being funny doesn’t hurt!”
Dunnellon High School
17 / Senior / Softball, Volleyball, Weightlifting
If someone told Jody Weber she could only play one sport, she’d pick softball. Although she’s played volleyball since middle school and started weightlifting in high school, the Dunnellon native has loved softball since her T-ball days at age 3.
Although she’s frequently the team’s catcher, Jody is a “utility player,” meaning she can play any position needed. For her senior year, her goal is to beat her season record of four home runs.
“What I like most about softball is that it’s really competitive and intense, and I’m an intense person,” she says. “In volleyball, I love hitting the ball; it takes a lot of stress out! With weightlifting, I like pushing myself to see how much weight I can get. We do bench press and ‘clean and jerk.’ Whoever has the most combined weight wins. I only did two meets this year because I broke my collarbone when I got bucked off a horse.”
Although she doesn’t show horses, Jody has also been active in FFA since her freshman year and was in 4-H before that. She showed a Charolais-Angus steer this year at the Southeastern Youth Fair and won Grand Champion; she has shown steers, hogs and lambs since she was in elementary school.
Jody has maintained a GPA of 3.5 or higher since her freshman year; her current GPA is 4.32. In addition to taking an AP class in U.S. history, she earned 12 college credits this year.
Her favorite subject is anatomy, which makes sense, as she wants to be a physical therapist and hopes to get a softball scholarship to make that goal a reality. She’s interested in Florida Gulf Coast University and Furman University.
“I hope people remember me as a dedicated athlete,” says Jody. “I want to have something to do with sports my whole life. I want to be a high school coach when I get done playing and, if I have the opportunity, move up to coaching at the college level. That would be awesome.”
Lake Weir High School
17 / Senior / Track, Weightlifting, Cross-country, Basketball
This versatile athlete shows her skills in numerous sports. Born and raised in Ocala, Bejai Fray is active in track, cross-country, weightlifting and basketball. As much as she enjoys each of the sports for various reasons, she realizes that her talents are probably most evident in track and field events.
“Weightlifting is probably my favorite sport; it’s fun to have that team effort,” says Bejai, who can bench press 185 pounds and ‘clean and jerk’ 145 pounds. “Lifting weights is a lot easier than running, but track is what will get me to college.”
She competes in the 100 meter hurdles, 200 meter, long jump, shot put, high jump and 4×1 relay with the Lake Weir High track team. But come summer, she steps it up even more, competing against athletes from Florida and other states in women’s outdoor heptathlon events in hopes of making the Junior Olympics. For the heptathlon events, she adds the javelin throw and 800 meter to her repertoire.
Even her hobbies are strenuous: She recently started boxing. “It’s really great cardio and keeps me in shape,” she says.
Bejai is proud of the fact that she’s made the time and effort to take IB classes (including her favorite subject, math) all the way through high school. Her goal as a senior is to earn her IB diploma.
“In sports as a senior, I want to hit my goals, set some records and, hopefully, find a college that will give me a full scholarship,” she says, adding that she’s interested in a sports-related major, such as physical therapy, sports medicine or kinesiology.
She hopes that when people remember Bejai Fray, they’ll think of “a good role model,” she says. “A person who had her goals straight and was headed down the right path.”
St. John Lutheran School
16 / Junior / Cross-country
Encouraged to take up running by her mother, also a runner and a former teacher, Ashley Gallinaro has been competing in cross-country since seventh grade. Races are 3.1 miles (5 kilometers), and she loves the fact that she competes against other runners but also against herself. Her best time this past season was 20:24.
“It can be as competitive or as laid back as you want. It’s a team sport, but it’s also very individual. This year, I would love to beat my time from the previous season,” says Ashley, who was born and raised in Ocala.
She’s thrilled that the St. John girls’ cross-country team made it to regionals the past two seasons. As an individual, Ashley also made it to state last season.
A stellar student, in addition to her athletic endeavors, this history lover currently has a 4.57 GPA and looks forward to taking more AP classes as a junior and senior.
“St. John is such a great school,” she says enthusiastically. “One of the things I’m most proud of is the history club I started at school with my sister, Nicole.”
As a junior, Ashley is just beginning to think about where she’d like to attend college. Although she’s not yet sure what she’ll major in, this outgoing student loves singing and acting. She also takes karate at the Martial Arts Center of Ocala.
Years from now, when people recall her time at St. John, Ashley hopes what they remember even more than her academic and athletic accomplishments is that she was a good friend.
Ocala Christian Academy
17 / Senior / Basketball, Volleyball
Her dedication to sports, academic studies and music keeps Kimberly (Kimmy) Kauffman extremely busy, but those efforts have definitely paid off. Kimmy made FCAL All Conference in basketball in both her sophomore and junior years, and FCAL All Conference Honorable Mention in volleyball her junior year.
“Our basketball team made it to the state championships the last two years, although we didn’t win the tournament,” says Kimmy, who began playing in seventh grade. Thanks to practicing with her two brothers, Billy and Joey, she is constantly pushed to improve her skills. “My older brother Billy is like a second coach,” she adds.
Born in Tampa and raised in Ocala, Kimmy plays both piano and flute. An accomplished pianist, she’s been playing since age 6 and has received the “Superior” rating in the ACSI Piano Festival Florida Region every year from 2009 to 2013. In addition to playing at her church, she also teaches piano lessons and currently has eight students.
A member of the National Honor Society and Beta Club, Kimmy maintains a 4.0 GPA and received the President’s Award for Educational Excellence in 2012. She’s also an officer for the Student Council and Crusaders in Action (CIA), a community service outreach club at her school, which she’s participated in since seventh grade.
This math lover plans to pursue a career in nursing and hopes to attend Bob Jones University.
Before heading to volleyball camp this summer, she attended a two-week leadership church camp in North Carolina. Kimmy’s goals for her senior year are “to be a leader and make a difference. I want to be remembered as someone who made a positive influence and was a good Christian influence on the other students.”
West Port High School
17 / Senior / Football
When it comes to full scholarship offers from Division I schools, DelRoy Baker has created some serious interest. The highly recruited football player has received 15 offers from colleges such as the University of Florida, Florida State, University of Missouri, Florida International, Indiana University and numerous others. In late June, he committed to Indiana University.
At 6 feet 6 inches and 275 pounds, DelRoy is right at home in his position as offensive line left tackle of the West Port Wolf Pack.
“My freshman year was my first time ever playing,” recalls DelRoy, who was quickly moved up to varsity that same year and has started ever since. “I ran track as a sophomore and also do weightlifting as a football workout, but my focus is now on football.
“I like so many things about it. I like the competition, being able to pit yourself not only against another person, but against a whole other team. I also like the way football bonds people as a family. There are plenty of guys on the team who I wasn’t even close to being friends with in middle school, and now we’re like brothers,” says DelRoy, whose favorite pro players are Jake Long, offensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams, and Aaron Rodgers, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.
Beyond his own impressive list of scholarship offers, DelRoy is proud of the fact that several other West Port players are also getting offers from Division I schools. West Port signed several college athletes to top schools last year.
Born in Ft. Lauderdale, DelRoy moved to Ocala in 2005. In addition to his busy sports schedule, he still finds time to pursue his artistic interests with pencil drawing and painting.
For his final year of high school, DelRoy intends to maintain his good grades.
“I want to have straight A-B Honor Roll on my final report card,” he says. His favorite subject is biology, and he plans to have that as his college major.
Belleview High School
16 / Junior / Tennis, Golf
Many adults don’t juggle schedules as busy as that of Jardine (Jake) Perkins. This outgoing junior has numerous irons in the fire and has managed to excel in every venture.
A member of the Belleview High tennis team, he’s been playing the sport since age 6 and was No. 1 seed on the team as both a freshman and a sophomore. He also competes for the golf team, having learned to play in fifth grade. Ask him to pick between the two sports and it’s a tough call.
“Both have a lot to offer, and I enjoy both for different reasons. They keep me busy and I like a good challenge,” says Jake, who was born and raised in Marion County.
Speaking of challenges, Jake’s hobby offers plenty of that. He races 650-horsepower, super late-model stock cars across the Southeast. Although he’s been driving at this level for three years, he’s been competing in auto racing since age 8. He’s currently looking for sponsors for his Jake Perkins Motorsports and thinks the auto racing may be a career path. His dream is to be a NASCAR cup driver.
“It’s definitely a challenge, but I’ve been able to balance everything so far. It’s taught me a lot; I’ve had to learn time management with the racing, my sports and being in the AICE program (similar to upper level AP or IB classes) at school,” says Jake, who has a current GPA of 4.9 and whose favorite subject is math.
Jake has set serious goals for his remaining high school years.
“I want to keep up the straight As, keep playing golf and tennis to the best of my abilities and squeeze in some extracurricular community activities, such as the Interact Club, which is in partnership with the Rotary Club of Belleview.”
Thanks to his auto-racing experience, this goal-oriented student is considering majoring in mechanical engineering and hopes to attend an Ivy League school or possibly the University of Florida.