Wiregrass Ranch grad leads by example

At Wiregrass Ranch High School, Carly Norman was a senior team captain and standout defender on the varsity girls lacrosse team — helping the program to a 14-2 mark during the 2019 season.

She also graduated in the top 10% of her class, with a 4.0-plus GPA.

But, it’s her contributions off the field and outside the classroom that proved to be most rewarding.

Wiregrass Ranch High School graduate Carly Norman became the school’s first recipient of the Congressional Citizen Award, for volunteerism and community service. Norman was president of the school’s Key Club service organization. (Courtesy of Kathy Norman)

Carly was involved in as many as 10 extracurricular activities.

In one of those, she was president of the school’s Key Club, the oldest and largest international student-led service program for high school students.

Through that, she spearheaded volunteer efforts at Feeding Tampa Bay, Bay Chapel Food Pantry, Humane Society of Tampa Bay and Habitat for Humanity, among others.

One definitive moment occurred in 2017, when Carly helped organize a weekend neighborhood cleanup in downtown Tampa, following Hurricane Irma.

The Wiregrass Ranch graduate recalled a local woman came up to her volunteer group and began sobbing. The woman thanked them for picking up trash and debris the devastating tropical storm had left behind.

Moments like that make volunteering all the more worthwhile, for Carly.

“It was just so touching to see how much my little effort, just taking some time off on Saturday morning for a couple hours to pick up trash made her feel so good,” Carly, now a freshman at the University of Central Florida, said.

The young woman’s efforts to serve have not gone unnoticed.

Earlier this year, she received the Congressional Citizen Award from U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis.

The honor was bestowed for Carly’s exemplary volunteerism and community service.

She was Wiregrass Ranch’s first-ever recipient of the honor, which goes annually to select graduating seniors in Bilirakis’ district.

Though she wasn’t seeking recognition, Carly said she was “really touched” to be chosen for the award.

Seeing the value of giving back

Some volunteers who are Carly’s age may view helping others as a necessary chore to obtain needed service hours. But, in high school, Carly began embracing the opportunity to help others who are less fortunate.

The 18-year-old put it like this: “I  kind of just grew to love volunteering. It became almost like fun for me. It’s a great way to give back to my community and have fun with my friends while doing it. …If you just take some time to find it fun, it really is amazing.”

Carly said her mother, Kathy Norman, instilled in her the value of volunteering.

“When I grew up, my mom always taught me, ‘You give back to others. You help others,’” Carly said.

She began at an early age by writing personalized holiday cards to military members.

In addition to her volunteerism, Norman was a senior team captain and standout defender on the Wiregrass Ranch High School varsity girls lacrosse team.

It blossomed from there.

“When I did get older and had more opportunities to help, I really did jump at that,” Carly said.

Since then, she has gone on to become a member of UCF’s Circle K International service club, the college and university counterpart of the Key Club.

That, plus a demanding undergraduate physical therapy program, keeps her plenty busy.

As she watches her daughter juggle multiple responsibilities and still make time to serve others, Kathy Norman is “beyond proud” of her Carly.

“She works really hard and balances a lot. She basically just wants to be a good kid and do her best in everything.

“She’s really grateful for what she has, and to think that other people don’t have the bare basics, it really does pull on her heart a lot,” Kathy Norman said.

In addition to the Congressional Citizen Award, Carly received another distinction her senior year.

She was one of three Wesley Chapel-based high school female athletes to receive the inaugural HERStory Museum scholarship, offered by the new women’s sports virtual museum at AdventHealth Center Ice in Wesley Chapel.

Though she was a dancer and cheerleader growing up, Carly transitioned to lacrosse her sophomore year, as it was becoming a sanctioned Florida high school sport.

She recalls being encouraged by the school’s boys lacrosse team to try out for the girls squad so they would have enough players to field a program. (Because of Title IX, the school must offer both a boys and girls lacrosse program.)

She quickly fell in love with the sport, she said, noting it “made me appreciate how much Title IX does for women’s athletics.”

Carly wound up developing into a team leader, and was known as a scrappy defensive player. She also recovered from a torn ACL her junior year.

“It kind of taught me that I’m tough,” Carly said of the experience. “The truth is, I’m not a star athlete. I’m really just a kid who has a lot of heart.”

Wiregrass Ranch girls varsity head coach Craig Havemann wasn’t surprised to learn of Carly’s scholarship from the local women’s sports museum.

He speaks fondly on Carly’s three seasons in the program, citing her positive attitude and “go-getter” mindset.

“She just had the grit and determination to want to succeed,” Havemann said. “She had that extra little quality that some people have that they just stand out as leaders — always asking questions, always wanting to improve.

“She’s one of those people that always has a smile. I can’t remember her ever being down on herself or just down in general,” he said.

Havemann noted Carly stepped up as an upperclassman to lead offseason workouts, and helped acclimate new players into the program.

She took them under her wing and showed them the ropes, and let them know what the expectations were, he said.

It’s the type of initiative from a player any coach can appreciate.

“As a coach, she makes the job a lot easier,” Havemann said. “She’s one of those people you want to have on your team because she just brings the whole team up.”

He also observed that Carly “was a much better player than she gave herself credit for.”

Published November 27, 2019

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