Central Florida athletes are headed to the Ivy League

By stereotypical standards, the Orlando-area athletes about to head off to Ivy League schools do not exactly measure up to the label of being a "geek," the term generally aimed at members of society who might be studious or intelligent or just plain different.

Being smart used to be a vehicle for joke fodder from the lesser masses. Nowadays, however, those same smart people have infiltrated the norm and its more chic to be of knowledge.

Intriguing as they all may be, these Ivy Leaguers are just your average teen student-athletes about to embark on adulthood.

Footballers Blake Orvis (Boone High, Dartmouth) and Rohan Hylton (Ocoee, Princeton), volleyballers Danielle Glinka (Bishop Moore, Dartmouth) and Danielle Leavitt (Lake Highland Prep, Harvard), rowers Harrison Thayer and Sam Ward (both of Winter Park and Penn), and track and field competitors Rachel Wofford (Port Orange Spruce Creek, Yale) and Martin Murillo (Orlando Timber Creek, Cornell), tennis player Sebastian Beltrame (Orlando Olympia, Harvard), track and cross country runner Daniel Salas (Winter Park Trinity Prep, Dartmouth), soccer player Meredith Gurnee (Lake Highland Prep, Dartmouth), water polo athlete Jillian Dukes (Winter Park, Harvard) and softball player Lainey Dorris (Winter Springs, Penn) will all be living the dream of competing at the highest level of collegiate athletics while also tackling some of the world's most revered levels of academia.

With the possibility looming that we may have overlooked someone, these are thought to be the only student-athletes in the six-county (Orange, Lake, Seminole, Volusia, Osceola and Sumner) Sentinel coverage area moving on to the hallowed halls of America's esteemed Ivy League colleges. Obviously, to be one of the few   from among nearly 100 area high schools and academies, is quite an accomplishment.

"I actually did not expect it at all whatsoever," said Wofford, a long jumper and triple jumper who has personal bests of 36-feet, nine inches in the triple jump and 18 feet, seven inches in the long jump according to FLrunners.com. "I got a letter from Cornell at the beginning of the year and that opened my eyes and I began contacting other Ivy League schools. It just went from there. It's amazing and wonderful how it all happened."

These athletes have little in common, but that probably shouldn't be any surprise. Persons who qualify for admission to these renowned academic institutions usually come with a certain level of eccentricity. They are all unique.

Murillo and Wofford actually share the same personal trainer, and to consider that Andy Vince, a coach at the National Training Center in Clermont, has two athletes headed to Ivy schools it's pretty incredible. 

Vince suggested Murrillo take up the hammer throw only a year ago, and he has had a meteoric rise to the top of his sport. He currently ranks 15th in the country with a distance of 195 feet, and he has his eyes set on lofty goals.

"I'm ecstatic about the opportunites I'm going to have at Cornell," Murillo said. "They were ranked 19th in the nation last year, and that's the highest for any Ivy team in NCAA history." 

He'll be looking to break the 200-feet barrier at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals  in Greensboro, N.C., next month and he also is competing for his home country of Colombia in this summer's Pan American Games. If he can gain about 60 more feet to his distance in the future, he'll be putting up Olympic-style numbers and Brazil 2016 might not be out of the question. 

He's had a bit of an uphill battle with his chosen sport since the Florida High School Athletics Association does not recognize the hammer throw as a sanctioned track and field event. He drives 45 minutes each way to Clemont to attend workouts with Vince.

"I think Rhode Island is the only state that actually recognizes the hammer throw as a competitive event," Murillo said. "Up north, it's a lot more prominent. I got kind of lucky to have a hammer-throw coach here."

So Murillo, who actually grew up playing hockey after moving to South Florida in 1999, isn't just your average teenager, but for the most part, these Ivy-bound young adults seem to fit that mold. 

For footballers Orvis and Hylton, their own teammates had no idea they were superior students.

Orvis had teammates like punter Johnny Townsend getting recruited by Florida, where he signed a letter of intent, and Ohio State and Alabama. Running back A.J. Turman is headed to Georgia. When mail call came at Boone High, the letters from football-traditional schools were not unusual. Then there was mail for Orvis.

"It's funny because coach would hand out the letters and the guys like Johnnie were getting the big-time schools, and A.J. too. And then he starts calling out Princeton and Dartmouth for my letters," Orvis said. "Some of the players didn't realize I was being recruited by them and one of them said, 'Wow, you're smart?' . . . I just said, 'Yeah, I guess so.' "

An Ivy League education wasn't necessarily on the career checklist of either of these exceptional young people until athletics showed them the way.

One of Lake Highland's graduating valedictorians, Leavitt battles Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammatory gastrointestinal disorder. It's been a painful, multi-symptom struggle that Leavitt has learned to control with diet and regular treatments. She has had to administer her own injections since learning of her ailment when she was 10 years old.

"I had to mature at a much faster rate than most normal teen-agers would," says Leavitt, who also calls herself a "perfectionist" and a master of time management skills. "I've had to learn when to push and when to take a rest.