LUTZ – To say that Ally Szponar is “daddy’s little girl,” would be an accurate statement in the general sense of that phrase. However, with Ally and her father Coach Bobby Ennis, it goes way beyond that.
These two are, according to the best historical research available, the only father/daughter combo to coach separate state champions in any sport. Coach Ennis is a member of the FHSAA Hall of Fame and has coached 10 state champions (teams & individuals) as well as 10 state runners-up.
Bobby Ennis began his coaching career at Leto in 1976 and quickly grew what became known as the Long Red Row into a state powerhouse in Florida cross country. In 1984, not only was another Leto state championship born, but so too was Allison Ennis.
She got on the fast track to becoming “assistant coach” and as she puts it, “ I grew up at the Nash Higgins Relay!”
Her father’s love for the sport certainly rubbed off on Ally (a former hurdler for Leto) and her desire to become a coach led her to pursue a career in teaching, which naturally led the way to coaching. Ally Szponar, nee Ennis, started out coaching cheerleading, but by 2016 was coaching the boys distance runners at Steinbrenner, where this fall she led the Warriors to its first state championship in boys cross country.
When asked what makes Ally the coach she is, her father said, ”she is the consummate motivator and has a critical eye for all events in track and field, not just the distance events. She emphasizes discipline, accountability and high expectations.”
When asked to elaborate on her father’s career and what made him the HOF coach that he is, Coach Szponar’s reply was befitting of a daughter who was raised to be a good person and let that trickly down to your coaching.
“He’s forgotten more than most of us coaches will ever know,” she said. “(He is) a true student of track and field, but more importantly, he instills in the boys a sense of wholeness. Our motto is, ‘Gentlemen, Scholars, Athletes,’ in that order. He absolutely cares more about establishing them as young men heading into life rather than just runners heading into the chute.”
Ennis retired after the 2018-*19 school year, and when asked what he planned to do in retirement, it had nothing to do with track or cross country.
“I have one grandson who has one grandfather, so that’s what I’m going to be,” he said.
Though it would not be surprising if Coach Ennis is unable to stay off the infield completely in the years to come, he has certainly left the Steinbrenner boys distance runners in more than capable hands. The baton has been passed, the exchange zones are all white flags!
– Bill Jenkins
Bell Creek makes it work without on-campus track
RIVERVIEW – In the 1986 movie Hoosiers, Hickory High wins the basketball state title in Indiana despite having to take on schools with ten times its enrollment. In one of the final scenes prior to the championship game, Coach Norman Dale (portrayed by Gene Hackman) reminds his team that the court they were playing on was the same dimensions as the court they practiced on back at their campus.
You could argue that Hickory High had it easy compared to Bell Creek Academy.
The Panthers have emerged as one of the top teams in Hillsborough County and in Florida despite the fact they don’t actually have an on-campus track to practice on.
“We have to workout on a grass field and I have to store all of the equipment in my garage,” said Bell Creek head coach Jason Gonzales.
Gonzales admits that not having an actual track does have its challenges. His long and triple jumpers for example don’t have a runway and sand pit on which to practice. Gonzales said not having a track does have some advantages though.
“On meet day, we feel like we have a mental advantage,” Gonzales said. “The kids are very hungry and they see the results, (and) that’s what gives them that little edge.”
This past weekend, Bell Creek traveled to Lakewood High in St. Pete for the West Coast Invite. The girls team emerged as champions over 10 other schools. Leading the way for the Panthers was Angel Parks, who won the 100m and 300m hurdles, and the junior also scored in the long jump and 4 X 100. Parks’ time of 46.90 in the 300m hurdles has her currently ranked first in the state for 1A.
“She is dedicated and she will go down to Miami and run meets on her own,” said Gonzales.
Joining Parks towards the top of the 1A leaderboards is Bella Butler, who ran 2:33.18 in the 800m at the West Coast Invite and is ranked second in the state; Olivia Orobello is ranked in the 800m and 1600m; and all three Bell Creek relays are ranked in the top eight.
As a result, one week into the season, the Bell Creek girls are ranked second in the state in 1A according to FLRunners.com.
Coach Gonzales says that the plan coming into the year wasn’t necessarily to win hardware at the state meet and this early ranking shouldn’t change their long-term outlook.
“We’re going to stick to what works for us,” he said. “I do think this (ranking) will make our kids a little bit hungrier, not just on the track but also in the classroom.”
– Ben Henderson
News and notes from Western Hillsborough Track and Field: Picking up where he left off, the 2019 3A state XC champion, Robinson’s Ethan Geiger had two solo 1600s of 4:19.51 at a three-way meet at Chamberlain, and barely missed his meet record at the Henry Strapp Memorial Invite at Gaither this past Saturday, running a crosswind hindered 4:26.67. At the Chamberlain meet Ethan also doubled back for a six-second victory in the 800, running 2:01.29, his third-fastest effort ever in the two-lap event. Robinson coach Mark Altimari said, ”Ethan is basically training through the first half of the season, getting ready for what really matters, the state series competitions” … Jefferson sprinter Jamari Gassett sits second in the 3A-District 8, 100m rankings, but not to be undone by her male counterpart on the Jefferson sprint squad, Cache Miller leads the district sprinters with a time of 12.81 … Alonso coach Roger Mills is still grinning ear-to-ear weeks after the installation of his new latex track, which played host to the Kincaid Classic on February 6. The wind was gusting upwards of 40mph, but it was a relative breeze compared to the pride and gratitude that Mills said he has for the many donors and countless volunteers that made this dream track a reality. Ravens don’t blink, and neither did Mills when it came to seeing this endeavor through to fruition. Congrats Coach Mills, your entire coaching staff and Alonso administration.
News and notes from Central Hillsborough Track and Field: Hillsborough High has had a long line of successful triple jumpers and freshman Kylen Webb looks to be next in line. In his triple jump debut for the Terriers, Webb posted a mark of 12.89m (42’ 3”) to win the event at the Henry Strapp Invite over the weekend. This is not however, his lifetime best as Webb jumped 13.83m (45’ 4”) last year while competing in AAU … Tampa Bay Tech’s Akari Issac just missed out last year at placing in state in both the shot put and discus. Her campaign to medal this year is off to a good start. After her throw of 36.02m in the discus and 10.82m in the shot put at the Henry Strapp Invite, Issac is ranked second in the state in Class 3A for discus and seventh in shot put … Anson Roe of Jesuit won the pole vault at the Henry Strapp Invite with a vault of 3.50m (11’ 5.75”). This was far from his best, as he opened his season with a vault of 4.27m (14’ 0”) at a home quad meet. The senior was 11th at state last year and is currently ranked first in the state for 3A.
Week 1 – Track & Field Power Rankings
Editor’s Note: These rankings are based on athlete rankings in the county that go 16 places deep. If an athlete is ranked first in the county, they get credit for 20 points. An athlete ranked ninth earns 10 points (all the way down to one point for 16th). This is in an effort to reward all around team depth vs having a couple of studs. Rankings accurate as of 2/18/20.
- Newsome (262.5 Points) – The defending 4A state champs in girls cross country showcased their might early on with eleven performances currently ranked in the distance events (800, 1600, 3200). Kylie Clark also leads the county in pole vault.
- Steinbrenner (261.33 Points) – Winners of the East Lake Early Bird Invite, the Warriors feature a fierce high jump squad, led by Rebecca Bach, that already has three girls who have cleared at least 1.42m (4’ 8”).
- Wharton (258 Points) – Hard fought win at the Henry Strapp Invite. Serenity Brazell brings some solid range and is ranked first or second in the 200, 400 and 800.
- Hillsborough (224 Points) – Runner-up at the Henry Strapp Invite. Justyce Murphy and Nia Randell lead their deep sprint squad.
- Riverview (204 Points) – While Alyssa Hendrix may headline the Sharks for her performance in the 3200, Maria Lopez-Hernandez is a part of nine ranked performances in the throwing events for Riverview.
Honorable Mention: Academy Of Holy Names, Plant, Alonso, Bell Creek, Lennard
- Newsome (318.5 Points) – The Wolves distance crew had a solid opening weekend, with four boys going under 10:20 in the 3200, led by Macarius Wright. Newsome also has depth in the 110 hurdles and the high jump, with two athletes in the top three for each event.
- Steinbrenner (296 Points) – The defending 4A state champs in boys cross country have yet to unleash some of their big guns in the distance events. The Warriors have 10 performances currently ranked in the county in the four jumping events, including Aidan Bitter’s long jump of 6.80m (22’ 3.75”).
- Wharton (265.34 Points) – Very well rounded team that won the Henry Strapp Invite over the weekend. The Wildcats have someone ranked in 16 of the 18 events. Zach Godblod leads the county in javelin by 40 feet.
- Hillsborough (219.5 Points) – Runner-up at the Henry Strapp Invite. Erryion Knighton leads their strong sprint crew.
- Jesuit (194.33 Points) – Hurdles and pole vault are the Tigers calling card early on. Jesuit has three athletes ranked in each area. Lawson McLeod is currently second in the county in the 1600.
Honorable Mention: Lennard, Alonso, Seffner Christian, Robinson, Plant
Weekly 813 Track and Field Honor Roll