Mainstream high school sports like football, basketball, baseball, track and softball may capture the majority of attention in Osceola County, but not on Wednesday night.  The sport of weightlifting grabbed the headlines when St. Cloud’s Mikey Ziss and Ashley Aun were named Orange Belt Conference Male and Female Athletes of the Year at Wednesday night’s OBC Honors Dinner at Silver Spurs Arena.

“It’s really hard to explain what this means to me,” long-time coach Cory Aun said.  “We are a somewhat obscure in that many people don’t even know weightlifting is  a varsity sport in Florida schools.  But is also an activity that practically every other athlete in every sport uses to get better.  It is also a sport  with no real off-season.   Our athletes have to train six days a week, every week of the year.  People see the success of these kids in meets, without realizing how many hours they have to put in to be successful.  I am so happy to see our sport recognized and I am so proud that Ashley and Mikey are being recognized tonight.”

Ziss, who won two state championships as a sophomore, added two more this year – winning both the Traditional (bench press and clean-and-jerk) and Olympic (clean-and-jerk and snatch) in the 119-lb. class at the 3A State Championships in Lakeland in April.  He was so dominant that his starting point in his first of three lifts was already heavier than the last lifts of his competitors.  

“I was at the state championships and was amazed that Mikey won the state championship on his first attempt, broke the state record on his second and then broke his own state record on his third attempt,” county athletics director Ryan Adams said.  “You could tell the other competitors were just in awe of him.”

Ziss’ accolades did not end with his individual state titles.  He was named overall lifter of the meet at the state championships across all weight classes and on Tuesday, he was named “Mr. Weightlfiter” by the Florida Dairy Farmers, signifying the top Florida High School athlete in his sport.  His acclaim extends to the national level, where he has won six gold medals in national high school competitions and will represent the United States in several international meets this summer.  He is the #1 ranked junior lifter in the nation at 55 kilograms.

Aun’s season was also spectacular.  

She won a state title in the Traditional and just missed a lift on her last attempt that would have won her the Olympic discipline as well.  Aun went undefeated in both disciplines during the regular season and won District and Regional titles to go with her state championship.   Her six state championship placement medals are the most in St. Cloud’s storied weightlifting history.  In addition, she has won AAU Florida and Florida Weightlifting Federation state titles.

While Aun and Ziss took the top individual honors, Harmony High School was once again top high school sports program in Osceola County – winning their fourth consecutive Orange Belt Conference All-Sports Team Championship.  The Longhorns rallied to win OBC team titles in softball, baseball, and boys’ track on the final weekend of the OBC competition in April to tally 155.5 points for the year and narrowly edge St. Cloud (151.5) for its 12th title since the school opened 20 years ago.

“We may not win championships in every sport, but we are consistently strive to be near the top when we don’t win,” Harmony Athletics Director Dan Kerr said.  “It is a true testament to the hard work our coaches and athletes put in.  It’s also blessing to work for a program where we not only have great coaches, but we have coaches that want to stay here.”

Harmony won eight OBC team titles this past year, but it was overall consistency that put them over the top.  In the 24 sports where points were awarded, Harmony placed in the top three in 17 of them.  

Despite the school’s athletic success, Kerr said he was equally proud of the fact that his school won the top Academic Award for a record 10th time in the program’s 15-year history.  That award goes to the school whose athletes have the highest cumulative GPA.  Harmony athletes posted a combined GPA of 3.426.   St. Cloud was second with a 3.397 GPA; while Celebration was third (3.334).  

On a county level, Adams noted athletes from seven of the eight public schools in the county posted cumulative GPA’s of 3.00 or higher and the cumulative GPA of all Osceola County high school athletes was an impressive 3.214.

The top individual sport academic awards went to Harmony’s Girls Cross Country team (3.80 GPA) and St. Cloud Boys’ Tennis team (3.79 GPA).   Adams also pointed out that nine County teams from Harmony (football, girls’ volleyball, competitive cheer, flag football, girls track), St. Cloud (girls golf, boys swimming, wrestling) and Celebration (wrestling) all finished in the top five in the state in their classification for academic excellence.

Individually, Osceola’s Edith Rivera Lopez (swimming, weight lifting, flag football) and Celebration’s Noah Fermin (soccer, cross country) were named female and male Student Athlete of the Year recipients.  Lopez-Rivera carries a 3.956 GPA and a weighted 4.61 GPA and completed college courses at Valencia in both her junior and senior years.  She scored an 1110 on her SATs and is the Osceola Class of ’24 Valedictorian.  She will pursue a biology degree after high school.

Fermin will attend the University of Florida after compiling a perfect 4.0 GPA and 4.657 weighted GPA at Celebration.  He completed 12 IB and three Advanced Placement courses and compiled a 1450 on his SAT test.

Other hardware handed out at the OBC Honors event was the M. Dean Cherry Coach of the Year Award, the Mike Fields Distinguished Leadership Award, The Athletic Director of the Year Award, and the Advent Health Community Service Award.

Each school named a single Athletic Coach of the Year with the M. Dean Cherry Award voted on from that list.  Poinciana basketball coach Craig Walls was named the Cherry Award winner after guiding  the Eagles to a 15-7 record, a second place finish in the OBC Tournament and a win in the Osceola Christmas Klassic.  

Other Coach of the Year winners considered for the award included Vic Lorenzano, Harmony’s wrestling coach who had a state champion and top five state team finish; St. Cloud’s Tommy Billiteri, who posted the first winning boys basketball record in two-decades and won an OBC title; and Jeremiah Schultz, who led Gateway girls’ tennis to their first state championship appearance in school history.  Other nominees included Celebration’s Mike Nelson (weightlifting), Liberty’s Justin Justino (Flag Football), Osceola’s Justin Lesniewski (wrestling) and Tohpekaliga’s Jennifer Farrell (girls basketball).

The Advent Community Service Award went to Celebration High School for a second consecutive year. Storm athletes compiled more than 4000 community service hours in a wide-range of activities including charity fund raisers, reading to elementary and pre-school children and volunteering for community events, like the Celebration Marathon.

Named for legendary St. Cloud and Harmony coach, educator, athletic director and community leader, the Mike Fields Distinguished Leadership Award went  to Tohopekaliga lacrosse and girls weightlifting coach Rob Weilert.   Weilert has built two winning programs in two vastly different sports; while teaching credit recovery classes.  He has championed Breast Cancer awareness, raising funds for that cause; while spending countless hours expanding interest in the sport of lacrosse at both Tohopekaliga and across Osceola County at all age levels.  He has hosted every pep rally at the school since 2020.

“Rob has built winners and has shown exceptional leadership in two vastly different sports,” Tohopekaliga Athletics Director Don Simon said “As an athletic director, you always envision the type of coach you want to lead a program and Rob is the first example that comes to mind.”

St. Cloud’s Bryan Smart, who oversaw a program that included seven OBC Team Champions, placed second in the All-Sports Award tally, finished second in the Academic Award category and oversaw installation of the school’s new football field, was named Osceola County’s Athletic Director of the Year.

“It’s an honor I have to share with my coaches,” Smart job.  “When you surround yourself with the right people it makes the job a lot easier.  We have great head coaches and assistant coaches at St. Cloud and to tell the truth I just try to give them what they need to compete and stay out of their way.”

In addition to the awards, Adams recognized the seven Osceola County athletes that won a total of nine individual titles in FHSAA State Championships in 2023-24. Those athletes included Ziss (2 championships), Aun, St. Cloud weightlifter Reese Butler (two titles), Osceola wrestlers Anderson Heap and Isfandier Sharipov, Harmony wrestler Shawn McCallister and Liberty weightlifter Kevin Hill.  He also noted that 74 senior county athletes would continue their athletic careers at the collegiate level.  In closing, he added that 74 senior student athletes will continue their athletic careers at the college level.