She was the kid with the long black hair and huge camera lens who relentlessly prowled the sidelines of American Heritage’s sports fields as she worked to capture the defining moments of the game.
“Using a camera to tell a story was the thing I needed to save myself,” American Heritage senior Alycia Cypress wrote in a personal statement about her love of photography.
Now the graduating senior and member of the Seminole Tribe is heading to Syracuse University, where she plans to study broadcast journalism at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. She dreams of becoming a sportscaster for ESPN after her love for visual storytelling blossomed on high school ball fields of Plantation.
“I was always trying to take the opportunities that I had. And I fell in love the first time I stepped on the field,” said the 17-year-old from Weston.
Once, her concentration was so focused she was toppled by charging football players because she didn’t realize the action was heading her way.
“It was terrifying. I saw my life flash before my eyes,” giggled Cypress, who routinely toted her Nikon D750 equipped with a 500 mm lens around campus.
Football games were on Fridays for six hours and baseball games were on Tuesdays and Thursdays, at five hours each. And that wasn’t all.
“I would go to a swim meet and she would be at the swim meet. I don’t know how she juggled it all,” said Karen Stearns, athletic director for American Heritage of Plantation. “She just made sure she was covering everybody. And not because it was expected. That was on her heart. She would say, ‘I want to cover whatever I can,’ and she did.”
Cypress also served as American Heritage’s wrestling manager, tallying scores, shooting photos and videos and cooking “lots of food” for the wrestling team. She became a fixture at school sporting events.
“I don’t know how she found the time. She had a tough academic schedule. And literally she was involved in everything,” Stearns said. “I constantly would see her at all athletic venues. She would then go home and process her pictures and post them. It’s not as if it was demanded of her to do it. Her shoes are going to be very hard to fill.”
When former NBA star Dwyane Wade showed up at American Heritage to watch his son play, Cypress finagled an interview. Her student advisor Donovan Campbell, a sportscaster at WSVN, got her the “in” with Wade.
“I asked him, ‘How does it feel to watch your son play his first home game at Heritage, and if it reminded him of his younger days. He said it was great to see his son coming into his own range,’” Cypress recalled.
Another time she interviewed New England Patriots running back Sony Michel, an American Heritage alumni.
Cypress earned community service hours for her time but she was really there to make photos and highlight student athletes. Her photography has been featured in USA Today and a New York art gallery. She’s also won numerous Florida Scholastic Press Association awards for videography.
Her extensive experience shooting high school sports, her determination to learn and her understanding of the games set her apart, Campbell said.
“She had this spirit about her that was different. She was a female photographer going to every football game and every baseball game and this wasn’t even required of her. She was doing this of her own time,” Campbell said. “She’s a super hard worker. Some of her work is better than the stuff we do.”
While photography is something she likes, video storytelling is what she loves.
Cypress became enamored with videography in eighth grade after winning a national film-making competition in Atlanta, Georgia. She realized then it was the medium that she wanted to pursue.
“We had to make a film in eight hours and we competed against thousands of other students,” she said. “A lot of the other groups were made of like 30 kids. In my group we had four. It was pretty crazy.”
She studied broadcast for four years at American Heritage and began shooting sports freshman year after the executive director of the school’s broadcast crew invited her to give it a try.
“I just kind of went for it. It’s hard, especially if you don’t know the sport,” she acknowledged. “I would be on the field and there would be younger kids who didn’t know the sport and they didn’t know what to shoot. If the football team is on offense, they would start going the other way.”
Cypress, daughter of Sharon and Tyrone Cypress, understood sports because she grew up watching it on TV with her family.
“My dad has always kind of instilled sports with me. We would watch SportsCenter and ESPN from a young age. We were always a sports family,” she said.
Cypress hopes to do photography as a side hobby in college while focusing on video storytelling in school. She wants to work for ESPN, creating short documentaries and stories about athletes’ lives.
She also hopes to use the broadcast platform as a means to tell stories of the Seminoles. If she becomes a broadcast journalist, she knows her presence will shine a light on her culture.
“It’s really fun to be able to go out there and tell stories of my own people,” she said. “I created a documentary for National History Day, a 10-minute documentary on Seminole culture and Seminole history. It gives people another point of view and perspective that they may not have thought of and I find that to be really cool.”
Said Stearns about Cypress: “Oh my goodness she is incredible. She really is — she is very, very special. She is very passionate, she is very driven. She is non-stop. She is going to be very missed by us.”
Sallie James is a freelance writer who has been a reporter for newspapers such as The Palm Beach Post and Sun-Sentinel.