Anderson “Gunner” Garner was one of the top swimmers in the county. He won county and district titles and was a first-team, All-County selection, and he kept busy athletically in the spring by playing tennis.
But make no mistake: Academics came first.
“If I had some kind of academic commitment and sports got in the way, nine times out of 10, I’d choose the academics,” he said, later adding. “I play both for fun. My academics are more important, and those are kind of secondary, a break from everything.”
The valedictorian at Winter Haven, Garner is The Ledger’s 2022 Boys Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
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Garner, who played four years of varsity swimming and four years of varsity tennis, graduated with a 4,873 GPA. He was a graduate of the Winter Haven High Cambridge program and among his academic achievements, he was a Sunshine State Scholar and Sunshine State Scholarship winner and was honored during the annual Sunshine State Scholars conference in Orlando in his junior year.
The Florida Department of Education event recognizes the state’s top students in the areas of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM).
More than 100 of Florida’s “highest-achieving” 11th-grade STEAM students were honored during the conference. Fifteen students, including Garner, were awarded one-year scholarships to attend a Florida college or university.
Garner plans to attend the University of Virginia and major in computer science.
“I wanted to do robotics, and I enjoyed programming so much that I said I like that more,” he said.
In his eighth-grade year, he took the test and was accepted into the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education program, which is an accelerated method of academic study.
An AICE diploma is recognized by the state of Florida as a more rigorous diploma than a regular Florida high school diploma. Students must earn seven credits of college-level examinations that are given at the end of AICE courses.
“I did some research and I found the Cambridge program was a little more flexible with what I wanted to take,” he said. “At the time, I wanted to take robotics. Winter Haven as a really, really strong robotics program. I wanted to do that, and Cambridge allowed me the flexibility at the same school that had the great robotics program. It was a really good feeling.”
Athletics was a nice break between school during the day and homework at night.
“I’d go to school, then I’d go to swim, swim my heart out for a little while, then go home, study and do my homework, start over, rinse and repeat,” he said. “It just becomes part of my routine.”
Still, he was an accomplished swimmer. At the county meet, he won the 200-yard freestyle and took second in the 500 free. He was second at districts in the 200 free and district champion in the 500 free.
Garner, who did club swimming a couple of years ago, accomplished what he did in swimming as a senior despite barely doing any swimming from the end of his junior season until the beginning of his senior season. I did club swimming a couple of years ago. He did stay active by playing tennis and running.
Although he puts athletics behind academics, he’s takes it serious when he’s competing.
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“I’m a pretty competitive person,” he said. “So even though swimming is only three hours of the day, I want to make the most of those three hours.”
The combination of athletics and academics means a lot of late nights to keep up with his studies, but he tries to always go to bed by midnight.
Garner is now heading off to college, and he takes a love knowledge with him.
“I don’t know if I totally loved school every step of the way, but I loved learning,” he said. “I try to find something interesting in everything. A lot of subjects can be quite boring, but you have to look at it a different way. Everything is a little bit interesting.”
Roy Fuoco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 863-802-7526. Follow him on Twitter: @RoyFuoco.