TAMPA — The date, May 9, had been circled on Kylee Gorngpratum’s calendar for a year.
“Circled because that day possibly would present a big problem,” Gorngpratum said. “I worried that I may have to make the toughest choice of my life on that day.”
The possible choice: Take an International Baccalaureate final exam in Tampa, or play in a state quarterfinal flag football game in Tallahassee.
The ramifications: If she did not take the IB test she would not be eligible for the IB diploma, the prized certificate earned after four years of studying day and night (four to six hours of homework) — every day. If she did not play in the flag football quarterfinal, she, Robinson High’s leader and top player, might let down her team, which had worked four years to win Hillsborough County’s first flag football state title.
Gorngpratum took a breath and looked up with eyes that said, please don’t think I’m crazy.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” she said. “I would have chosen the flag football game. I know a lot of people would not understand that choice. But it was my senior year. It would be my last chance, my only chance, and I couldn’t let my team down.
“I also had gotten all the benefits of being in the IB program. I would have that forever. I had gained the knowledge and developed the self discipline (of being in IB). If I didn’t take the final exam, the only thing I wouldn’t have would be the piece of paper (the diploma).”
So, May 9 approached — like a train speeding toward a brick wall: Robinson’s flag football team proceeded to beat every opponent before the state quarterfinal while the IB biology test was firmly set in Tampa for 12:30 p.m. (The May 9 test date was non-negotiable because every IB test is administered at the same time for IB students around the world.)
The only way Gorngpratum could do both was if Robinson got the last state quarterfinal game of the night, the 8:30 p.m. start in Tallahassee.
“And we did!” Gorngpratum said. “We were fortunate.”
With the rest of the team waiting in Tallahassee, Gorngpratum took the test with flag teammates Caroline King and Lauren Peterson.
The girls finished about 3 p.m. and literally ran out of the test to the car where King’s sister, former Robinson flag football player Katherine, waited in the driver’s seat.
About 20 minutes before kickoff, the girls pulled up and ran onto the field to the cheers of teammates.
Gorngpratum, King and the rest of the Knights then played the best game of their lives, defeating third-ranked Harmony 46-0. A day later, Robinson won the state semifinal, 7-0 against Tallahassee Godby, then followed with a 7-6 defeat of two-time defending state champion Seminole Ridge.
A few days later, Gorngpratum — who finished with 1,090 total yards, 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while helping the Knights go 19-0 and outscore opponents by a combined 662-18 — was named Florida’s flag football player of the year: An exclamation point to a phenomenal high school career.
Not only had she helped Robinson to the flag title and earned her prestigious IB diploma, but in the fall she led Robinson’s volleyball team to the state semifinals, only a year-and-a-half after learning how to play the crucial setter position.
The Knights volleyball team finished 14-14, and Gorngpratum will forever be remembered for her tenacity in the region final at Naples Lely. In that match, Robinson trailed 2-0 in games, fought back to win the next two, then trailed 11-7 in the last game in front of a raucous crowd. The crowd had done its homework to single out the Knights’ leader, and Gorngpratum was bombarded with comments, some of them rather rude.
“Of all the players they could have singled out, we were so happy that it was Kylee, because she was our most mentally tough player, and I think she actually gets tougher in those situations,” Robinson assistant volleyball coach Shayna Sasse said. “It worked in our favor.”
Gorngpratum led an 8-1 surge over the final nine points for the victory.
Gorngpratum will play volleyball for Maine Maritime Academy while focusing on a degree in International Business. But, she said, her senior year at Robinson will always be near and dear in her heart.
“I set high goals for my senior year, but honestly, it ended up better than I ever imagined. I will definitely miss these days.
“I wouldn’t change anything.”