The Cypress Creek High School athletics department has made numerous strides in on-field performance since the school first opened in 2017.
But, it’s the way the school’s student-athletes, coaches and fans conduct themselves before and after athletic events that has garnered statewide attention.
Cypress Creek earned the Florida High School Athletic Association’s (FHSAA) Fred E. Rozelle Sportsmanship Award for Class 4A for the 2019-2020 school year. In total, 14 high schools and two middle schools received the notable honor on June 4.
As part of the award, the Wesley Chapel-based school will receive a commemorative plaque and a $2,500 check, to go toward ongoing athletic department funding.
Cypress Creek, also known as the Coyotes, originally was nominated for the award because the school had not received any disciplinary actions or ejections among all athletes and coaches; the school also was required to submit information to the FHSAA outlining the athletic department’s overall philosophy and how it fosters good sportsmanship among all participants.
Cypress Creek athletic director Justin Pelliccia labeled the honor as “something we’re definitely very proud of” and “great publicity for Pasco County as a whole.”
“It’s definitely a huge honor for all of us, all of our coaches, all the countless hours that they’ve put in and dedication that they’ve put into their programs,” said Pelliccia, who’s served as athletic director since 2018.
“Sportsmanship is always key,” he said, noting if kids are respectful and they buy in and they are respectful to the coach and to other teams, it contributes to success.
The statewide award has been presented annually since 1991. It is named in honor of FHSAA Commissioner Emeritus Fred E. Rozelle.
This is the first time since 2014 that a school in The Laker/Lutz News’ coverage area has received the distinction. Land O’ Lakes-based Rushe Middle School received the honor in 2014 and Sunlake High School received it for the 2012-2013 school year.
Cypress Creek principal Carin Hetzler-Nettles is elated the school received the prestigious designation.
“I am absolutely thrilled about our students, fan base, and coaches being recognized with this award,” she wrote in an email to The Laker/Lutz News.
“This is truly an honor! This honor is a testament to the dedication of our coaches, community & students and their commitment to our H.O.W.L. mission, which is to Have a growth mindset, Own their education, Work as a Community, and to Lead responsibly. I am proud of our entire Coyote Nation for being honored with this award!”
When it comes to promoting good sportsmanship, the Cypress Creek athletics department takes a multi-faceted approach.
Student-athletes, for instance, are advised to keep a positive outlook on social media sites, and partake in various community service and fundraisers, such as pancake breakfasts and car washes.
In general, the school’s athletes are “very respectful” to opposing teams before and after competitions, Pelliccia said.
Also, Coyotes coaches “go above and beyond” in the name of setting a good example, Pelliccia said. As an example, he said many coaches make it a point to recognize rival schools’ student-athletes — in addition to their own — during Senior Night ceremonies.
Moreover, the school is revered for its active spirit group — student fans who attend countless sporting events each year, both home and away.
The athletic director explained school administration outlines guidelines, ideas and expectations for appropriate student section behavior.
“I know you can go to some schools and their student sections are crazy and ruthless, so we’ve kind of taken the step to make sure that sportsmanship is their focus. We’ve had meetings with them, we go through kind of things they can use while they’re at the games, and they were great this year,” Pelliccia said.
Meanwhile, Cypress Creek athletics as a whole has come a long way since its inaugural year — when softball was then the only program to achieve a winning campaign.
Pelliccia acknowledged it was initially difficult for the upstart school to field competitive athletics teams. It also proved challenging for students rezoned from rival high schools — Land O’ Lakes, Sunlake, Wesley Chapel and Wiregrass Ranch — to gel.
Pelliccia observed: “All these kids came from different schools, so getting them to be a cohesive unit in Year One was our struggle; they were still all sort of enemies at that point.”
However, as the school embarks on its fourth year in existence, triumphs have begun to show.
Besides the sportsmanship designation, the Coyotes had a banner year in terms of on-field success.
The school’s football team made its first playoff appearance; the boys soccer and girls weightlifting teams were district champions; and, boys cross-country and girls weightlifting were district runner-up, among other notable benchmarks.
“The kids are taking pride in their athletic teams, and the success is coming and definitely showing,” Pelliccia said.
The athletic director himself has picked up some individual recognition, while serving as the school’s varsity boys soccer coach. Pelliccia was named Sunshine Athletic Conference East Boys Soccer Coach of the Year, after guiding the program to an 11-6 mark and a Class 4A regional semifinals appearance this past year.
Published June 10, 2020