Photography by Matthew Holler
Garrison Keillor should visit Venice before he performs at the Van Wezel on Dec. 13. With apologies to Keillor’s fictional hometown of Lake Wobegon, we’ve decided that in Venice, all the children are way above average. Our hunt for cool South County kids turned up so many contenders that we had to limit ourself to a sampling: a maker, a giver, a barrel racer, a performer and a volleyball champion. But don’t let the thumbnail sketches fool you; these young achievers of Venice are anything but one-dimensional.
Opportunities are like relatives, says Rickey Tedesco. Sometimes you know they’re coming, so you get the house ready. And sometimes they show up on the doorstep unannounced, but you’d better let them in.
Rickey—a radiant 17-year-old singer-songwriter, Venice High cheerleader and Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota County (BGCSC) 2016 Youth of the Year—didn’t always think so strategically. Bullied in elementary school, he reacted by becoming a classroom problem, he says. Ten years ago, when his mom found BGCS, “I thought it was going to be like every other stupid place she put me in,” says Rickey. But he bloomed there.
BGCSC helped him recognize and develop his gifts. “I’ve been singing ever since I could speak,” says Rickey, who also taught himself to play seven instruments. Music runs in the family. He remembers waiting for the bus with some of his seven half siblings, “and we’d start jamming out.” In seventh grade he performed in a Venice Middle School talent show and reveled in the positive attention. Now “I think of everything as an opportunity,” he says.
He entered the 2015 Boys & Girls Clubs of America digital arts festival contest, for instance, and placed first in graphic design. With the BGCSC Keystone Club for teen leaders, he traveled to Dallas last spring for the national conference, and his talent show performance there won him a Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation scholarship for his first voice and piano lessons.
As Rickey applies to college, he’s weighing his interest in marine biology and ecology against his passion for music. Yet whatever he studies, he knows he wants a singing career. “I don’t want to be a regular old Justin Bieber. I want to write songs that open eyes to people’s problems,” he says.
Whether or not the Venice High School Indians make it to the girls’ volleyball state finals on Nov. 11 and repeat their 2014 championship, 18-year-old Tanner Gauthier is looking like a winner. “A phenomenal four-year starter,” according to longtime coach Brian Wheatley, and “one of the best athletes in the school, male or female,” Tanner received her first Division 1 offer in September, to play for Jacksonville State University in Alabama. Her final choice, she says, will be “wherever it feels like home.”
In seventh grade, Tanner had reached level 10 gymnastics when she saw a family friend play Indians volleyball. The sport offered the competition Tanner loved with the bonus of “a bunch of girls,” and she switched instantly. Throughout high school, her life has been “literally volleyball,” practice every morning and two to three games a week in the fall with weights and workouts in the off-season, a minimal lull for Tanner since she also competes on the Venice High varsity track team in high jump (her best event), triple jump and shot put.
Tanner says she “grew up as one of the guys,” trailing her football-playing brother and his friends. Athletics comes more easily to her than academics, so she appreciates her coaches for finding tutors and for teaching good time management. “They’re building us as people,” she says.
As a senior, she feels compelled to mentor her younger teammates, sharing huddles, traditions (like rubbing the head of the team’s wooden Indian before games) and advice. “It’s about attitude and effort, giving 100 percent,” she says.
In college, she’s thinking of majoring in sports management, but she’s hoping that what she accomplishes on the court will be the springboard to her dream career—playing professional beach volleyball.
Cheyenne Nazzarese has 15 horses—along with assorted cats and dogs— scattered across several south county pastures, about half around her family home in Venice. She used to show jump but followed her mother into barrel racing. “I had so many boxes of ribbons,” she explains. “And I wanted to make money.”
Now at 18 she boasts almost two dozen belt buckles, including a weighty oval identifying her as a finalist in the 2016 National Barrel Horse Association Youth World Championships last July. There she placed fourth in the 2D category, riding Blazin Corona and collecting a purse of $1,171. In Florida, she ranks first or second in the 1-3D categories.
A more modest nametag identifies her as the State College of Florida, Venice, Student Government Association president.
“Horses have taught me how to be responsible, how to prioritize,” says Cheyenne. “No matter how hungry or thirsty I am, I have to make sure they’re fed and have water.” At State College of Florida, that translates into perfect attendance and hands-on involvement in the club rush and fall festival. After earning her AA degree at SCF, Cheyenne hopes to transfer into a state veterinary program.
Daughter of a highway patrolman, Cheyenne has a yes-ma’am attitude. She attributes her competitiveness to growing up with brothers, including a twin, but while they went into “motors,” she stuck with horses.
In a notebook, she tracks her times and barrels nicked. “A lot of people blame their horses when it’s really their fault,” she says. Blazin Corona, Girls Got Chrome, and all her other mounts have taught Cheyenne the most important lesson of all: She holds the reins to her own success.
You may have already heard of Rocket Burns (yes, Rocket’s the name on his birth certificate, a parental jest turned prophecy), the Venice-born and-raised 15-year-old “entrepreneur, inventor, public speaker, instructor and business owner” who spoke about the maker movement at Station 2 Innovation in Bradenton this past June. Perhaps you caught his 2015 TEDx talk in Tampa, “I Built a 3-D Printer and So Can You!” Google his name, and you can pull up his high-octane resume at the website for Rocket Technologies, LLC, the current embodiment of his various ventures, which include designing and building “a fully operational logic puzzle for a local escape room base[d] on a Chladni plate system.”
Rocket doesn’t talk like an android, though. He’s polite, sober, a tad oppressed by his course load as a Pine View School ninth-grader because it impinges on his main hobby, which is “building things.”
“I’ve always been fascinated with how things fit together,” says Rocket. At school he got into science fairs, robotics (which he now teaches at summer camp), and model rockets, competing with the first Pine View middle school team to make it to the National Fly-Offs in Washington, D.C., in 2015. He found the perfect extracurricular playground at the Suncoast Science Center’s Faulhaber Fab Lab, where he hangs with the Suncoast Makers, part of a techy subculture. Members can use “all this crazy cool stuff” in the machine shop, he says. “I pretty much sleep there.”
Rocket recently launched a new subsidiary, Kilovolt Creations. From wood he crafts coasters, drumsticks, pencil holders and the like, soaks them with “a proprietary electrolyte solution,” and then zaps them with 2,000 volts of electricity. “Like lightning in nature,” it leaves a jagged design. “Dad taught me to make things look nicer,” Rocket says.
His long-term plan: study low temperature physics. “I want to be a professor,” he says.
The divide between have and have not struck Marguerite Andrich hard at the end of seventh grade. On a cruise to Honduras, she noticed that schoolchildren there needed backpacks. Long-distance philanthropy posed too many challenges, but she discovered that every year about 250 foster care kids in Sarasota County throw their belongings into black plastic trash bags as they relocate from family to family.
At least they should have a duffel bag, she thought. And it should be filled with home.
For Marguerite, 14, now a tall, soulful Pine View School ninth grader, this is not some abstract cause. Daughter of a cinematographer, she has lived in New Jersey, Hawaii, Oregon, Idaho and now Florida to stay within the orbit of her dad’s film sets. “I know how it feels to move around a lot,” she says.
With the help of her mom, Victoria, Marguerite started Bag Up the Love, modeled on the My Stuff Bags Foundation. Each bag costs $20, which covers the duffel, toiletries, a stuffed dog, and either a coloring book with crayons or a journal with pens for teens. A GoFundMe page quickly collected $1,000 in donations.
They filled 50 bags and arranged for the Safe Children Coalition and Sarasota YMCA to make confidential deliveries. Done.
But the mission had traction. Marguerite landed two micro-grants and media coverage. As donations arrive, the Andriches fill bags, piling them floor to ceiling in Marguerite’s room.
In 2017, Bag Up the Love hopes to expand into Manatee County, where the number of kids in foster care has surged to about 800 per year. And by the time she heads to college, Margeurite hopes she’ll have found a sponsoring organization to take over the project.