BRIGHTON — Dressed in a blue blouse and white pants, Cheyenne Nunez greeted guests at her college signing party looking every bit the part of where she plans to spend the next four years.
Cheyenne wore two of Florida Gulf Coast University’s primary colors as the Okeechobee High School multi-sport standout from the Brighton Reservation signed a letter of intent April 17 to play NCAA Division I softball for the Fort Myers school. About 50 guests, including family, friends, coaches and teammates, gathered in the Brighton gymnasium amid festive blue and green balloons on a Sunday afternoon.
With her parents Peggy and Daniel Nunez Sr. at her side – both clad in blue FGCU mom and dad T-shirts – Cheyenne signed the paperwork. Behind the 18-year-old infielder was a “Congratulations Cheyenne” banner decked out with the FGCU logo and a softball; in front of her was a throng of well-wishers who formed a half-circle and eagerly snapped photos. Moments later, she was joined behind the table by her older brother Daniel Jr. and sisters Joleyne, 7, and Daliyah, 6, for a family photo.
“My mom is happy because she always wanted to me play softball in college, and my dad is happy because he just wanted me to go to college,” Cheyenne said.
Cheyenne has earned 12 varsity letters – a rare accomplishment for high school athletes – as a member of Okeechobee’s varsity volleyball, basketball and softball teams for four years. She opted to pursue softball over volleyball in college thanks to a basketball injury. A torn medial collateral ligament in her left knee in early January provided the necessary, albeit painful guidance.
“What really made the decision between the two was when I hurt my knee,” Cheyenne said. “In volleyball, I was an outside hitter and I was constantly jumping. I was afraid I could re-tear it. Where in softball, I have to jump and make some plays, but most of the time it’s not so much up and down motion; it’s forward and backward.”
Cheyenne will suit up for an FGCU squad that plays in the Atlantic Sun Conference. FGCU coach David Deiros, who built the program from scratch starting in 2001, is in his 14th season at the helm. He guided the Eagles to the college’s first-ever NCAA tournament victory in any Division I sport when the softball squad stunned the University of Florida in the 2012.
The team’s slate this season has included games against Central Florida, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Purdue and Utah.
Although she has protected the left side of Okeechobee’s infield for four years as a shortstop and third baseman, Cheyenne said it’s possible she could begin her college career in another position.
“I feel like I could see myself playing outfield, but I’m going to work my butt off to be an infielder. They’re losing five seniors,” she said. “I’m going to try my hardest to get some playing time.”
With a reputation as a fiercely competitive leader, Cheyenne serves as a role model to fellow student-athletes from the Tribe.
“We’re almost the same age and we’re on the same team, but I’ve always looked up to Shy,” said Okeechobee senior softball player Rumor Juarez.
“She’s older and I look up to her a little bit more,” said Okeechobee sophomore baseball pitcher Sean Osceola, who has aspirations to play Division I college ball. “We talk about sports and everything. She tells me to try my hardest and work hard, and hopefully I’ll get recognized like she does.”
Okeechobee softball coach and Tribal citizen Mary Huff emceed the ceremony. Similar to Cheyenne, Huff starred at Okeechobee before she embarked on a collegiate softball career that included a stint of Division I ball with the University of Central Florida. Huff has always figured Cheyenne would thrive in sports.
“From the moment that she stepped on any field or court, I knew she was going be somebody who would do big things in the world, and make not only her peers proud, but her parents and also the Tribe,” said Huff, whose first Division I signing as a coach came two years ago when Carissa LiCata signed with FGCU.
Some of Cheyenne’s former coaches and teachers addressed the audience during the ceremony.
“She has the ‘it’ factor,” said Okeechobee basketball coach Joe Smith. “It cannot be coached; it cannot be taught. There’s something inside the individual player that when the game is on the line, they want the ball.”
Norman “Skeeter” Bowers provided congratulations on behalf of Chairman James E. Billie. Bowers praised Cheyenne for her success on the field and in the classroom.
“She not only excels in sports, but she excels in school, too,” Bowers told the audience. “That’s very important.”
Cheyenne said she was thrilled with the outpouring of support she received at the ceremony as well as the response to a recent feature about her in Okeechobee The Magazine.
“So many people were calling and congratulating me. [I heard] from (Brighton Councilman) Andrew Bowers and (Brighton Board Rep.) Larry Howard,” she said. “Oh my gosh, I know a lot of people knew, but I didn’t think all these people would take time out of their day to call me and wish me good luck. It makes me feel so good that my hard work is actually going toward something, and people are proud that I’m going somewhere after high school.”
After she sliced into a celebration cake made by her aunt Deanna Nunez, Cheyenne handed out pieces and looked to her future at FGCU.
“I’m very excited. I’m anxious,” she said. “I’m ready to go.”