The Falcons proved it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, as they captured the Sunshine State Athletic Conference 5A Championship with a dominating 47-7 win over Ocoee Legacy Charter in Lakeland on Nov. 12. Following a 1-5 start to the season, Saint Stephen’s ripped off five consecutive victories to win their third SSAC crown in six years.
Senior quarterback Luke Donley saved one of his best performances for last, completing eight of 10 passes for 133 yards and four touchdowns at Lakeland High’s Bryant Stadium. Fellow senior Justin Millican made three of those TD grabs and had six catches in all on the afternoon for 101 yards. The Falcons scored 40 unanswered points after Legacy tied the score early at 7-7.
Running back Evan Brown, who had been the catalyst for the Falcons’ late-season offensive surge, rushed 18 times for 111 yards and one score. The junior finished his season with more than 1,300 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging nearly 120 yards per game on the ground.
The SSES defense allowed Legacy just 137 total yards and intercepted quarterback Liam Lamprect three times, including one returned for a score by senior captain Michael Konkol.
The victory marked the Falcons’ first SSAC title since 2017. The 2016 and 2017 Saint Stephen’s teams earned back-to-back all-division championships before the league broke its football post-season play into upper and lower classifications. The Falcons have now advanced to the SSAC finals five times in the past eight seasons.
International visitors have returned to campus for the first time in nearly three years as we welcome Ms. Adventina Emmanuel from Tanzania, and a group of students and their headmaster from Denmark to SSES this week.
Ms. Emmanuel will spend nearly a month at Saint Stephen’s observing classrooms and other operations to help grow programs for her school and create an even stronger bond between her students and those at SSES. Tina hails from Iringa International School, one of eight current Saint Stephen’s “sister schools.” She serves as the WAHI (We Are the Hope of Iringa) Project Coordinator with Global Outreach Tanzania. The voluntary after-school program is designed to motivate primary and secondary students to become strong and confident leaders as it addresses challenges faced in Tanzania education, including a lack of science, technology, and reading focus.
“Most Tanzanian youth, especially the ones in rural areas, have potential but they lack the opportunity to show their potential,” Ms. Emmanuel said. “Therefore, it’s our responsibility to create a space for them to showcase their abilities.”
Students from another SSES sister school – Esbjerg International School in Esberg, Denmark – arrived on campus on Oct. 26 and will be with us through Nov. 2. The 10 students and their headmaster will experience a full schedule of events and interactions at Saint Stephen’s and will be hosted by SSES families during their stay.
A group of Saint Stephen’s AP Spanish students also had their own opportunity to travel abroad. The students recently returned from a 10-day trip to Spain that included stops in Cordoba, Seville, and at our sister school in Barcarrota. They took in the sights and sampled the local culture, tried a flamenco dance lesson, an art class, learned to prepare paella and gazpacho, visited an olive farm and olive oil processing agri-business, and much more.
While the Saint Stephen’s community was mostly spared from the brunt of Hurricane Ian, our neighbors to the south in Lee and Collier counties weren’t nearly as lucky. The Hurricane left a path of widespread destruction in Southwest Florida that will require long-term recovery efforts. With a desire to do its part to help, the entire SSES community created a series of donation efforts that culminated this week.
The Falcons boys and girls lacrosse programs organized a drive that resulted in a massive amount of donated goods that were sent via truck on Wednesday to a collection center at Riverdale High School in Fort Myers. Thursday was deemed “Superhero Day” on campus and students, faculty, and staff donned their best superhero gear in exchange for a monetary donation. More than $7,500 was collected, which will be given to Episcopal Relief & Development for their support efforts in Southwest Florida, as well as to the recovery drive for our friends at Village School of Naples.
Athletics did its part by adding a home game for the football Falcons on Thursday night against Gateway Charter School of Fort Myers. Gateway has not yet been able to return to campus in the aftermath of the storm, but the game was scheduled to help provide at least a little bit of normalcy for their student-athletes and an opportunity to bring their school community together at an uncertain time. It was a good night all around as the Falcons won a thriller, 31-26, and Saint Stephen’s filled Gateway’s team bus with donated food to take back to Fort Myers with them as they plan to return to school on Oct. 17.
Middle School Latin teacher Tony Haakman has been named the state’s 2022 Latin Teacher of the Year by the Classical Association of Florida. Haakman becomes the third Saint Stephen’s Latin teacher to win this award since the association began naming its honorees in 1981. He follows previous SSES winners Linda Mishkin in 1997 and Geoff Revard in 2006. In addition to his teaching, Haakman – along with Revard – has helped to build Saint Stephen’s into a powerhouse competitor at the annual Florida Junior Classical League (FJCL) state forum. Over the past 17 years, Saint Stephen’s has consistently placed among the Top 10 in the state at the FJCL’s senior level, and the 2019 team brought home the school’s first-ever Florida academic championship. Among the program’s other recent highlights, in 2015, three Saint Stephen’s students qualified to be part of the six-member Team Florida that won the Advanced Certamen National Championship in San Antonio, Texas.
Saint Stephen’s has opened its 52nd school year with record enrollment and unmatched enthusiasm. Students, faculty, and staff representing all grade levels gathered inside Hoagland Arena on Aug. 26 for a rousing opening celebration that included musical performances, the ringing of the opening bell, and plenty of Green & Gold spirit created and led by the varsity cheer squad. It marked the official start of what promises to be an exciting school year that is highlighted by record-breaking enrollment. Nearly 740 students were on campus for opening day, including more than 140 new students who are joining Saint Stephen’s from schools throughout the area, the country, and the world. Despite this rapid growth in the student body, however, Saint Stephen’s has maintained its commitment to small class sizes and the personal interactions that make the school and its culture so special. The student/faculty ratio remains 9:1. The 2022-23 school year also marks the final one for Head of School Dr. Jan Pullen, who will retire after 35 years of service to Saint Stephen’s. Dr. Pullen started at SSES as director of the Lower School in 1988 and was named Head of School in 2003. You can watch some of the highlights from the opening ceremony here
An argument can be made that Saint Stephen’s boys tennis is currently in the midst of the most successful run in the program’s storied history – but so far, without the ultimate payoff. Since the 2019 season, the Falcons are 46-4-1, with their only regular-season loss being a 4-3 defeat at Sarasota Riverview on April 2, 2019. Their other three setbacks have all been in the state championship match to the same foe – Boca Raton St. Andrews. The latest came on April 26, denying the Falcons the title trophy for the third consecutive season (the 2020 campaign was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic).
While the top prize remained elusive, it took none of the luster off another dominating season for Saint Stephen’s. The Falcons swept eight of their 10 regular-season opponents without losing a set and cruised through six playoff matches in district, regional, and state tournament play before squaring off with St. Andrews again.
The SSES girls also won a district title – their fourth in five years – and reached the regional final before falling to Community School of Naples. Both teams remain positioned for continued success with the bulk of their top players returning for the 2023 season.
Saint Stephen’s alums (Class of 2018) Chase and Sydney Brown, star student-athletes on the football team at the University of Illinois, were selected to throw out the honorary first pitch on Wednesday, May 25, at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago prior to the White Sox game against the Boston Red Sox.
The twin brothers were record-setters at SSES, leading the Falcons to back-to-back independent state football championships in 2016 and 2017, as well as the FHSAA Class 1A state track and field title in 2017. They have continued their success in Champaign, Ill.
Chase, a running back who transferred to Illinois after his freshman season at Western Michigan University, was an All-Big Ten Third Team selection as a sophomore in 2021. He ran for 1,005 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Illini, including a 233-yard rushing game against Penn State that was the most yards ever gained by a visiting player at Beaver Stadium. Sydney led Illinois in tackles in 2021 with 81, and added a quarterback sack, three pass breakups, and two forced fumbles from his safety position. He was named All-Big Ten Honorable Mention. In addition to their on-field exploits, the affable Browns have also become the current face of Illinois football and are featured in the majority of the program’s marketing efforts in video, print, and social media.
Saint Stephen’s celebrated its 47th graduating class on Saturday, May 21, with a beautiful commencement ceremony at Harvest United Methodist Church in Lakewood Ranch. The 58 seniors collected their diplomas in front of family and friends, and enjoyed an inspirational graduation address from Ms. Elizabeth Djinis, an alumnae of the Class of 2012, graduate of Duke University, and a decorated journalist.
The Class of 2022 will matriculate to 40 different schools in 20 different states and countries. Acceptances included 105 unique institutions and 57-percent of the graduates were accepted to their first and/or second-choice school. The class features a National Merit Scholar and multiple honors college acceptances to universities including Southern California, Ohio State, South Florida, Florida, Xavier and others. Seven graduates are recruited student-athletes who will attend universities to play men’s soccer, men’s tennis, sailing, football, track, and women’s basketball.
The complete matriculation list: American University, Boston University, Bryant University, Carleton College, Duke University, Eckerd College, Elon University, Emory University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida Institute of Technology, Florida Polytechnic University, Florida State University, Hastings College, Jacksonville University, Lake Forest College, Louisiana State University, Ohio State University, Rice University, Rollins College, Saint Leo University, San Diego State University, Savannah College of Art & Design, State College of Florida, Stockholm School of Economics, University of North Carolina, University of North Georgia, University of Texas, Sewanee University, Trinity College, University of California-San Diego, University of Central Florida, University of Colorado, University of Florida, University of Iowa, University of Mississippi, University of South Florida, University of Southern California, Wofford College.
Following an extensive national search, the Board of Trustees has named Peter Kraft the new Head of School at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School. He will officially begin in the role on July 1, 2023, after a one-year leadership transition period common at independent schools.
With more than 25 years experience as a teacher and administrator, Kraft comes to Saint Stephen’s from Oregon Episcopal School in Portland, where he has served as Associate Head of School since 2017. After beginning his career in New England, Kraft moved to Peddie School in Hightstown, N.J. in 1995 as a history teacher and coach. He left Peddie as Academic Dean in 2011 to become Associate Head of Academic Affairs at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis, Ind. He also served as Interim Head of School at Park Tudor in 2016-17.
“As I told the community during my visit, Saint Stephen’s values are my own. I believe in scholarship, leadership, service, and integrity,” Kraft said. “To be able to lead a school with which I am so aligned — one that cherishes traditions but also embraces innovation — is truly a blessing.”
A native of Pittsburgh, Penn., Kraft earned a bachelor’s degree in history from The College of William and Mary, a master’s in U.S. history from the University of Virginia, and a master’s in private school leadership from Columbia University Teachers College.
He becomes the sixth Head of School at Saint Stephen’s and succeeds Dr. Janet Pullen, who has been an administrator at SSES since 1988 and has served as its leader since 2003. Pullen will remain in her position throughout the 2022-23 school year while meeting regularly with her successor. Kraft will visit the Saint Stephen’s campus at key times throughout the year to help assist with the transition.
“Peter Kraft is someone who is well-educated, has extensive leadership experience, understands the importance of Episcopal schools, and is an extremely personable man who wants the best for children,” Dr. Pullen said of the selection. “I’m very much looking forward to working with him all next year to help him get Saint Stephen-ized!”
Three Saint Stephen’s students were part of the six-member Manatee County team that finished second in the state at the annual Commissioner’s Academic Challenge, March 31-April 2 in Orlando. Falcons Jackson Nealis, Sophia Berry, and Luke Phommachanh helped Manatee win the Preliminary and Semi-final rounds to advance to the Division I Finals. In the six-team championship round, Manatee ultimately fell short against the eventual winners from Brevard County, 262-233. Polk, Orange, Pinellas and Seminole finished 3-6. You can view the complete results here: https://academic-challenge.org/results/
Since it began in 1986, the Commissioner’s Academic Challenge has been a showcase of Florida’s high school academic excellence. Teams representing school districts throughout the state compete for scholarships and more. Originally started as the Florida Tournament of Academic Excellence by the Polk County Public Schools, the event became the Commissioner’s Academic Challenge when the Florida Department of Education became involved in the early 1990s. Held each spring at Walt Disney World Resort, players answer questions from the areas of language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, the fine arts, world languages (French and Spanish), physical education, health, and technology. New questions are written each year by educators from high schools throughout the state.