FORT WALTON BEACH — Tori Orcutt’s cursor drifted across the link on the FHSAA’s website, her interest piqued.
Months ago, the Fort Walton Beach senior had applied for the association’s Florida Dairy Farmers Academic All-State Team scholarship, but she had yet to hear anything back. Now the team’s announcement was plastered across the FHSAA homepage.
“I was interested to see if I would recognize any of the names,” Orcutt said. “When I saw my name, I was really excited.”
As well she should be.
One look at her résumé confirms Orcutt is one of the state’s academic and athletic elite.
Boasting a 4.0 GPA, Orcutt ranks fourth in her senior class, and she sat alongside LSU quarterback Joe Burrow this past December in New York City, chosen from a nationwide pool of 40,000 applicants as the Heisman High School Scholarship female winner.
She has lettered in cross-country, swimming, track and field, and soccer. She is an 11-time Florida High School Swimming State Championship medalist and two-time Florida High School Track & Field State Championship medalist.
Following the Class 2A state swim meet in 2018, she was named Daily News Swimmer of the Year after finishing third in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 1 minute, 6.35 seconds and fifth in 200-yard individual medley with a time of 2:09.68. At the time, both were personal bests.
Orcutt then parlayed that prowess in the pool into a scholarship to the University of Kentucky where she will swim alongside her brother, Daniel, after she graduates in May with more than 1,000 hours of community service.
“It’s been actually a bit of a roller coaster,” Orcutt said of her senior year. “I have a great support system, amazing councilors, teachers, administrators, family, friends, but it’s been a little hard personally dealing with a back injury that pretty much took me out of my senior season of athletics. But I have great coaches and great friends, and I’ve been trying to do my physical therapy and get back into sports, so I’ll be ready for Kentucky in the fall.
“But as far as the scholarships, it’s been amazing to work towards paying for college, and there’s been a lot of great moments throughout. So, it’s been a little up and down, but I’ve been very blessed. I’m very thankful.”
The Academic All-State nod comes with a $1,700 check and potential to be the $6,300 female winner —there will also be a male winner, with Freeport’s Kobe Phillips also eligible.
The Daily News caught up with the future Wildcat to talk about the COVID-19 pandemic.
So how has the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing affected you personally?
Personally, my dad lives (and works) in Oklahoma so much and we have all moved up there, and we’re very blessed to be all together during this time. And my sister is in pilot training, so she’s actually pretty close; she’s at an Air Force Base only two hours away, so she gets to visit. And my brother was swimming at the University of Kentucky, but they shut down, so he’s back with us as well. So, it’s really fun as a family; we like to work out together, so whether we’re playing soccer together in the back yard or working out together in the house, we just like to stay active and do what we can while staying inside.
Out of all the postponements and cancellations between pro and college, what sport do you miss the most and why?
Just seeing the personal side of it — We were at our last track meet, the county track meet, when they were telling us we might not have a state series this year. That seemed kind of outlandish; we didn’t think that would actually happen, but then watching all the cancellations, it was just crazy. I was not going to swim at Junior Nationals this year, but a lot of my friends and teammates were going, so it was really disappointing for them not to be able to go. And watching my brother, who swims for an SEC Division I school, and all those seniors not be able to go to their last NCAA’s was also really hard. I’d say the Olympics was the most disappointing, but at least it’ll happen next year. I think for those seniors who are competing in their college sports not getting a last chance to compete is pretty devastating.
What does a world without sports look like to you?
We joke around as a family and it’s funny — We usually as a family like to watch sporting events, and so now on ESPN they’ll play like virtual tournaments of basketball or football or people playing video games or reruns. I think that’s the saddest thing about this whole situation is that sports are now playing reruns. Sometimes it’s hard, especially for people who love sports so much, to see this going on right now and that sports aren’t being able to happen on the worldwide stage. But, I think if we step back and think that this is a real crisis and people are really struggling that we need to be thankful that we’re together as a family, and if you’re healthy, to be thankful that you’re healthy and safe. I think that’s what’s important right now.
You mentioned exercise and ESPN reruns; what else are you doing to stay busy?
Essentially our school has transitioned to online, so my sister and I work at the table every day for a couple hours getting all our school work done, but then we make sure that we exercise every day. It’s really fun as a family that we get to workout a lot together because we’ll either go have a game of soccer or my sister and I will workout together. We’re doing whatever we can to stay active, and it’s fun ’cause we like to challenge each other and compete and have fun.
And how has the transition from classroom to online learning gone for you guys?
We’re very fortunate to be in Okaloosa County. Being in a military family, we’ve seen a lot of our military friends in different school systems, and they’re not able to complete the school year and have just shut down. We’re very fortunate that our teachers and administrators put together a great online system and now we’re just transitioning to online. It is difficult to transition with having a lot of different websites we’re trying to look at online, but we’re getting it done and still being able to learn, so that’s really fortunate.
It seems increasingly likely that school may not return. I’m sure you were looking forward to walking at graduation. Have you given much thought to what you might end up missing out on?
It’s definitely disappointing. You got to school for 12, 13 years as a child and young adult, and you look forward to graduating and watching all the hard work pay off and being with your friends and saying goodbye one last time. It’s something that’s really special; it’s a very special moment that everyone else gets, and so it’s very disappointing as the Class of 2020 to potentially not get that, but I think as a group we’ve worked hard throughout our years at school and we’ve done the best we could regardless of the situation. So, I’m hoping that it’ll happen, but if it doesn’t happen, we made the best of our years.