"I was hit hard on one play but got right up and tried to shove the guy out of bounds."
That was how Cassandra Patrick, a freshman at Mount Dora High School (MDHS), described the first hit she took during her inaugural junior varsity football game this season.
"I think it is great that Cassandra is playing football. When she is hit, purposefully, during practice or a game, she handles it and bounces right back. She never takes the 'I am a girl route' nor have the opposing teams targeted her for being a girl", said Soraya Lakatos, the high school's athletic director.
This 100 pound, lithe freshman looks more like a cross country runner or a dancer than a burly football player. "Cassandra makes up the difference with her agility, flexibility, endurance, and she is fast. Plus, some of the boys on the JV team haven't had their major growth spurt yet. Once she is in uniform and wearing her pads, it is hard to tell the difference between the boys and the lone girl on the field," said Lakatos.
In middle school, Patrick played flag football and was told she had a good arm and was tough and quick. That inspired her to try out for the quarterback position at MDHS. "Trying out for the team was a lot of fun. It focused on running plays and conditioning, stuff I like to do," she said.
Though she didn't make quarterback, Patrick did make the JV team. She alternates between playing corner back and wide receiver. So far this season, she has played one out of three games, and the team is undefeated. Lakatos noted, "The attitude among the football coaches is that they are not going to be soft on her and that everyone is to give their 100%."
Patrick already knew a number of her JV teammates because they had played flag football together in middle school. When asked how they behave toward her at practice, she responded, "The guys treat me like a sister; they don't treat me like a girl; they have no problem hitting me during practice."
Though her family is very proud of her decision to play football and to stick with it, Patrick acknowledged, "They do worry about me getting hurt." In spite of her family's concern, she would like to make the MDHS varsity team some day, and if she doesn't get hurt in high school, she would like to play college football.
When asked if she wants to pursue a sports-related major in college, Patrick quickly responded, "I want to be an author."
"You should start a blog about your football experiences," Lakatos jumped in and suggested.
As for girls' reaction to her playing football, Patrick said, "The response is usually, ' Wow! Really? That is so cool."
Her advice to other young women who would like to play high school football is, "If you want to go for it, do it as long as you are having fun,' " and Cassandra Patrick is definitely following her own advice.
Maybe it's something in the water. Something that ignites the right side of the brain with intense musicality and creativity. Whatever the reason, Mount Dora seems to be an incubator for emerging music artists.
One local singer and songwriter, Jeff Whitfield, apparently drank much more than his share of the water. His ease and honesty radiates in his music which commands even the passive listener to stop, pay attention and remember it. Whitfield credits the influences of music icons Dan Fogelberg, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Ray Vaughan with influencing his soulful style.
At 39, the humble and humorous Mount Dora High graduate is about to embark on a new chapter of his career. After 18 months of writing and recording, Whitfield, who lives in Mount Plymouth with his wife Tracy and their children Chelsea and Aidan, will release his album of original music, "Choices", in October.
The album kicks off with a pre-release jam at Ruby Street Grille on Oct. 14, followed by an album release concert featuring the full band at the Mount Dora Community Building on Oct. 16. The start of Whitfield's new chapter marked the perfect time for Mount Dora Buzz to sit down with him so his many fans and friends could get to know him a little better.
MDB: With your voice, you could live anywhere, but have chosen to stay local. Why? JW: If I’m broken down on the side of the road, there’s a good likelihood someone will help me. I’m a small town guy. And I’m not that smart, I need everything where I can find it. (laughs)
MDB: Other than your own home, what single place do you feel most comfortable. JW: The woods. The further in the better.
MDB: Where did you play your first local paid gig? JW:(Smiles)Eduardo’s Station (currently the Lost Parrot on Donnelly St.) when I was 17 years old. Vicky, the manager, wouldn't give me more gigs until I showed her my report card that showed I was passing. I was paid 75 bucks.
MDB: What came first: guitar, singing or songwriting? JW: Singing, followed by guitar and piano, then writing. I was 13 when I started.
MDB: You're an incredibly soulful artist. Where does that come from? JW: Early Motown was a big influence. When it’s done right, it comes from the heart. It’s a very honest music.
MDB: What two artists would you gladly walk over hot coals to perform with? JW: Bonnie Raitt. I wanna be the male version of her. (Smiles) And Django Reinhardt.
MDB: What three words best describe your music? JW: I hope people think it’s soulful, musical and serious Music should be fun, but it’s nice to be taken seriously.
MDB: You and David Oliver Willis have complementary musical styles and have collaborated successfully on a lot of local endeavors. What bonds this artistic bromance, we dubbed “Whitlis”? JW: (Laughs) He and I started down the same path. I really dig how he goes out and drums up support for music and the community. David has a lot of talent and gets even better every day.
MDB: 3 words to describe yourself? JW: I’m gonna go with what I hope: Funny, loving, honest.
MDB: 3 words your wife would use? JW:(Laughs) Forgetful. Heartfelt. Kind.
MDB: Where do you draw inspirations for your songwriting? JW: Usually love or pain. My wife creeps into every song I write, whether I like it or not. Occassionally, I like to be whimsical.
MDB: Some people define musical success by how far up the charts an artist climbs. How will you personally define the success of “Choices”? JW: As an artist, being able to listen to it and get that feeling of an album that I really love and I hope others feel the same.
MDB: What's the most valuable lesson you’ve learned and who taught it to you? JW: Try your hardest to do what you say you’re going to do. My father taught me that in a very inadvertent way.
MDB: What are you afraid of ? JW: Dying. There’s a great Sam Cooke line, “It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die 'cause I don't know what's up there, beyond the sky.”
MDB: What’s your guilty pleasure? JW:(Quickly) Potato Chips! The only kind that should be abolished are ‘Salt & Vinegar’. (laughs)
MDB: What's something about you that most people don't know? JW: That I’m a committed father. I do a lot of ‘Mr. Mom’ during the day. My wife works days so we split parenting duties.
MDB: It's time for a speed round of “Would you Rather...” Super Bowl or US Open Golf? JW: US Open Meditation or push ups? JW: Both Boxers or briefs? JW: Neither Tailgate or Broadway? JW: Broadway Rollercoaster or carousel? JW: (sighs) Carousel Beach chair or surfboard? JW: Surfboard! Heights or speed? JW: Almost neither, but I’ll take speed Shaken or stirred? JW: Shaken Hug or handshake? JW: Hug Purell or 5 second rule? JW: 5 second rule Dumbells or down dog? JW: Dumbells Betty White or Barry White? JW: I want them to be married and come to my house for dinner. T-Bone or Tofu? JW: T-Bone Paris or Peru? JW: Paris