Pitching for programs: Marco Island Academy raises funds for athletics

Lance Shearer

Marco Island Academy held an event Saturday night, looking for supporters.

The school, Marco Island’s charter high school, has compiled an impressive set of results in athletics, for a small, new program, and one that has been focused heavily on academics.

Marco Island Academy is an A-rated high school, ranked in the top two percent of the nation’s most challenging high schools, designated a High-Performing Charter School by the Florida Department of Education, and ranked as one of the nation’s most academically challenging schools by the Washington Post.

With academics well in hand, the school has now notched some significant wins on the playing fields, gyms and tracks. The MIA girls’ volleyball, boys’ soccer, and girls’ soccer teams all won the Paradise Coast Athletic Conference championships in their class.

The girls playing soccer did it for the second straight year and compiled a record of 14-4-2. The boys went 5-0-1 in conference play on their way to the championship. The girls’ volleyball team, under first-year coach (and MIA alumna) Alyssa Stolinas, were undefeated in conference play and won several district contests as well.

Swimming and track teams also scored successes, with hurdler Suzie Linn ranked 8th in the state, and the entire track team going to compete in the district championships Wednesday, said MIA athletic director Ryan Marie Roberts.

But all this costs money, and unlike traditional public schools, charter schools have to come up with the money themselves. This was the purpose of the “Cheers for Champions” event Saturday night at the Hideaway Beach Club.

“Charter schools like MIA do not receive funding for athletics,” said founder and board chair Jane Watt. “Each and every year, we must come up with $150,000 to support our athletic program.”

From raffle tickets sold by the arm length by competing teams of student athletes to a silent auction, featuring items such as fishing charters and a five-night stay at Pine Point Lodge in Montana, to the “call to action,” the major initiative of the evening, the emphasis was on giving the school’s athletes the wherewithal to compete. The keynote speech came from former NFL defensive tackle Andre Fluellen, who played eight seasons, including four separate stints with the Detroit Lions, each separated by stints with other teams including the Dolphins, Bears and Bills.

Fluellin was an entertaining, engaging speaker, sharing his personal journey, making it relatable to his audience members who in many cases had very different histories, and at the end, bringing it back to why the right and necessary thing to do was to financially support the athletes of Marco Island Academy. 

After he spoke, MIA principal Melissa Scott brought it home with the “call to action,” a direct fundraising appeal. You could say the “action” is “auction without the ‘U’” as in “you get something” – here the diners raised their paddles for the student spotters around the room to note when the dollar amount got to a number they could give.

MIA student athletes Nicole Brunson and Evans Metelus served as co-emcees for the evening, while student cinematographer Harvey Miller presented a video on the athletic program.

Of course, athletics is not the only thing MIA is raising money for. The school has kicked off a capital campaign to build a permanent campus, a three-phase process that will continue for years. They expect to break ground in June for phase one, an athletics and arts center, which will sit on currently vacant land just to the west of the modular classrooms.

The plan calls for an academic center to make up phase two, at a cost of $6.5 million, and final completion and soccer field in phase three, with a cost of $1.5 million. Guests Saturday heard an update from capital campaign co-chairs Dinos and Marianne Iordanou, and witnessed the unveiling of a 3-D architectural model of the phase one building, that featured electric lights not only inside the scale building but the fountain as well.

The school has many donors to thank, and Saturday those included Tim and Chenoah Hager of Sweet Annie’s, the JW Marriott hotel, and two couples honored as philanthropists of the year, Mark and Michelle Melvin, and Terry and Andrea McCreanor.

A preliminary guesstimate of the proceeds from “Cheers for Champions” was a little over $60,000, said Watt.

The school’s website is marcoislandacademy.org. Marco Island Academy is a 501 (c)3 charitable organization.