American football suits former Academy at the Lakes player from Russia

LAND O’ LAKES — The American Dream is what most immigrants are looking for when they move to the United States.

A chance at a better life.

For former Academy at the Lakes defensive end Max Stepanets, who graduated this past spring, a move from Russia to America was just the opportunity he needed to escape from living in poverty and create opportunities for himself and his family.

In the fall of 2007, Eric Wilson, who is currently Stepanets’ guardian, met Max — along with six other boys from Russia — after he was hired as part of a charity group from South Florida to be their house parent. Taking them in, Wilson grew close with each of them, but budget cuts in 2008 shut down the program, leaving Wilson with the task of having to return the boys to Russia while breaking the bad news to their respective families.

Wilson set out to find a solution for bringing the boys back to the U.S., and with the help of a few friends, he founded the RenProject. Stepanets was one of three students offered the opportunity to return to America, and Wilson and the charity identified Academy at the Lakes as the home school for the boys.

Upon their return, Wilson noticed almost immediately was the interest Stepanets for the game of American football. From the moment he picked up a football, it seemed Stepanets and the game were a perfect match.

“I don’t know what it was,” Wilson said. “Besides maybe watching my Colts play, I don’t know what gravitated him to football. He was just determined to really play football. He works really hard at it every day. The first thing I did was I put him in the i-9 type leagues so he could get used to the rules of football.”

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AATL programs find right combination

Posted on: July 2nd, 2015 Tags: , , ,

Tribune correspondent
Published: June 18, 2015

When Academy at the Lakes girls basketball coach Karim Nohra arrived at the school in 2011, the Wildcats were not a perennial power in any sport other than six-man football, which won a state championship in 2006.

Since 2011, the mantra for AATL athletics has been simple: Do well in the classroom and on the field. With those values, it has provided the Wildcats with a steady diet of great student-athletes whom, throughout the past few years and the 2014-15 school year, saw Academy at the Lakes’ most successful athletics run in the private school’s short history.

“It’s all kind of built up,” athletic director Tom Haslam said. “It is no overnight change, though, but success lately has come fairly quickly. You look at my program, the boys basketball team. We’ve been fairly decent, but this year everything kind of came into place. We had talent and senior leadership. It all came into place and got us to the final four.

“It has come fairly quickly and this year kind of culminated for our athletic program.”


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Memories to last a lifetime

Ethan and Tom Haslam


Tribune correspondent
Published: July 2, 2015

For the longest time, it was just a daydream for Tom Haslam.

As athletic director and boys basketball coach at Academy at the Lakes, he wondered just how far his Wildcats, led by his son, Ethan, could go in the playoffs.

“I’ve just always had a daydream where we’d have a moment like that, a special one where we’d go further than we’d been before,” Haslam said. “We built a team from scratch through hard work, and to get that far is great. … To see (Ethan) propel (the team) to new heights, it doesn’t always happen the way you want it to, but I had to pinch myself when it did.

“It was a dream, the way (his) final year ended. Really magical.”

Haslam was referring to the Wildcats’ historic run that resulted in the program’s first state tournament berth, thanks to a stunning upset of the then-defending Class 2A state champions Orlando Christian Prep. Ethan led the way with a game-high 35 points, including seven 3-pointers.

“That (game) I’ll remember forever, but that moment in particular, where we pulled off the win and my dad and I just hugged on the court,” ” Ethan said. “It was the biggest game and moment, and it was in front of the school to share with all our fans and with (my dad). … It was the happiest moment of my life.”


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Tampa Bay Times’ all-county softball teams

Posted on: June 15th, 2015 Tags: , , , ,

Original article written by Bob Putnam, Times Staff Writer for Tampa Bay Times


Player of the Year: Megan Lane, Sr., Hernando

Pitcher of the Year: Louisa Disi, Sr., Springstead

Coach of the Year: Kurt Goluba, River Ridge

First team

P Alexis Kilfoyl, 8th, Academy at the Lakes

P Abbey Primavera, So., Nature Coast

P Shannon Saile, Jr., Land O’Lakes

P Lindsey Snyder, Sr., Wiregrass Ranch

C Tayler Holt, Jr., Land O’Lakes

INF Kelsea Vanderveer, Jr., Mitchell

INF Kendall Tipton, Jr., Land O’Lakes

INF Lindsey Hupp, Sr., Zephyrhills

INF Abby Oliver, So., Springstead

OF Madisyn Palmer, Sr., River Ridge

OF Jaime Valenta, So., Wiregrass Ranch

OF Rachel Graham, Jr., Pasco

UTIL Makenzie Goluba, Sr., River Ridge

DH Celine Kordon, So., Nature Coast

Second team

P Anessa Holes, Jr., River Ridge

P Mariah Melendez, Fr., Sunlake

P Lauren Moore, Jr., Hernando

P Britney Pressler, Jr., Gulf

C Brook Schwaner, Sr., River Ridge

INF Gabriella Santiago, Jr., Land O’Lakes

INF Skyler Boynton, Sr., Academy at the Lakes

INF Tori Wilkins, Sr., Land O’Lakes

INF Kourtney Gracie, Jr., Anclote

OF Cassidy Roberts, Jr., Sunlake

OF Kacie Huber, Fr., Pasco

OF Sara Brown, Jr., Hudson

UTIL Elizabeth Diaz, Sr., Wiregrass Ranch

Read the entire article on

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Best Of The Best: Top Pasco Prep Athletes, Coaches

This article was originally published on

With the school year over, here the Tribune’s list of the top prep players and coaches of the year for 2014-15 season.

Players and coaches of the year were selected by correspondents Mike Camunas, Andy Villamarzo, Tony Castro and Steve Campbell.



Ethan Haslam, Sr., Academy at the Lakes


Like his brother, Jake, and his father, Tom, the shooting guard made an unexpected trip to states, and the long lasting memory may well have been the game prior to the Wildcats’ state semifinal at the Lakeland Center. In the region final, Haslam scored 35 points in a win against 2014 Class 2A state champion Orlando Christian Prep, a team that had blown out AATL the previous two postseasons.

Tom Haslam, Academy at the Lakes


No season can be as memorable as the one Haslam had guiding the Wildcats this year. Haslam was able to share the experience during his son’s final high school season, plus the team became the first Pasco County boys basketball team to reach states since Wesley Chapel in 2002-03. Academy finished 20-10, and despite losing to Orlando Agape Christian 57-36 in the state semifinals, Haslam believes, win or lose, his team had a season to remember.

Audra Leipold, Fr., Academy at the Lakes


Leipold was impressive last season as an eighth-grader, but she was able to follow that with an improved freshman season. The shooting guard passed 1,000 career points and posted season averages of 19.9 points and 5.0 assists while leading the Wildcats back to the Class 2A state semifinals. Leipold is on a torrid pace that could see her surpass 3,000 career points before she graduates.

Karim Nohra, Academy at the Lakes


Through 23 years of coaching girls basketball, the 2014-15 season might have been one of Nohra’s best coaching jobs to date. Using a six-player rotation during the regular season and playoffs, Nohra led the Wildcats to a 27-2 record and reached the state tournament for the fourth straight season. Nohra also passed the 500-win mark during the regular season, and one of the area’s best coaches will take aim at winning his first state title next season.


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Academy Athletics Celebrates Banner Year of Success

Posted on: May 21st, 2015 Tags: , ,

It’s been a banner year for Academy at the Lakes’ athletic program. Literally. Each season – fall, winter and spring – yielded championship results for the Wildcats. In total, the Academy gym will soon display six new banners – five for individual accomplishments and one for a team championship, the Boys’ District Tennis title. In […]

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Honors Chemistry Class Brings Periodic Elements to Life

Academy’s honors chemistry classes recently conducted an in-depth study of the periodic table. As part of this project, students chose specific elements to research, either independently or through collaboration with a peer, and then presented their findings to their classmates. As students researched their elements, they also made a square for the chemistry/biology classroom periodic […]

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My Day As A Junior Reporter

Posted on: May 1st, 2015 Tags: ,

By: Sophia Ramsey ’24 I spent the day as a junior reporter for Academy at the Lakes. Today I got to be a junior reporter for the day it was really cool to see what Miss Penny Rogers and Miss Bri Dold do as the academy reporter. Today I was allowed to interview all my […]

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Inaugural Academy STEM Showcase and Robotics Competition Scheduled May 2

Posted on: April 28th, 2015 Tags: , ,

Academy’s STEM club is giving the community a chance to see robots compete up close while learning about the STEM program.

On Saturday, May 2 from 1:00pm-3:00pm the Academy Gym will transform into an exciting environment of robotics featuring a FRC Robotics Scrimmage and an Arduino Robotics Demonstration.

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State tennis: Academy at the Lakes duo nets first title

Anna Waller will be attending Steinbrenner next year, and Daniella Moreno is graduating. But before they departed Academy at the Lakes, they wanted to leave the school with a little something.

Its first state championship.

Mixing outstanding net play with a strong baseline and service game, the Waller-Moreno tandem won the Class A overall doubles championship by topping American Heritage 6-3, 6-1 Wednesday morning at Red Bug Park.

“We’re the first to win one,” said a smiling Moreno, who didn’t play high school tennis the past two seasons but came out this year because she “wanted to go out with a bang.”


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