‘Ding’ Darling Announces High School Photo Contest Winners

provided to The Santiva Chronicle

Following a contest judging on April 28, the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS) announced winners and finalists in the ninth annual “Ding” Darling-Theodore Cross High School Photography Contest at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island.

Sponsored by the Theodore Cross family, the competition invites high school students from Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades, and Hendry counties to compete for prizes, which this year included a Canon digital SLR camera package, a one-year subscription to Adobe photography software, and a one-year family pass to all Florida state parks.

The late Theodore Cross, the contest’s namesake, lived part-time on Sanibel Island. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; advised the Johnson and Nixon administrations on anti-poverty programs; wrote the influential book Black Capitalism, among others; and created Birders United, a birding website that ranked legislators according to their record of bird protection support.

Late in life, Cross decided to indulge his love for birds and photography and traveled the world to collect stunning portraits and stories to chronicle his adventures. He photographed often at “Ding” Darling, and a number of the images in his book reflect his love for the refuge. Cross published Waterbirds: Portraits and Anecdotes from Birding Adventures in 2009 at age 85; he passed away shortly after in February 2010.

NPR’s “All Things Considered” called Cross’ collection of 179 images and countless anecdotes “spectacular.” The New York Times described it as “part visual encyclopedia, part memoir.”

Refuge ranger Yvette Carrasco, Fort Myers News-Press photojournalist Andrew West, and refuge supporter Nancy Adams judged the contest. They reviewed 321 images taken by students from nine different schools.

First place went to an image titled “Nature’s Bandit” by Chase Qurollo of Cape Coral High.

“I love this photo because it’s in black and white, and because the raccoon is looking directly at the camera,” said judge Carrasco. “Raccoons have such fun personalities, and they are very curious animals.”

In second place, Jakob Keyes from Cypress Lake High created a closeup floral portrait titled “Purple Rain.”

“I chose the flower because of its great depth of field, color, and rule of thirds,” said judge West. “Great use of macro lens, and it spoke to me artistically. Also, great leading line in the yellow part of the flower.”

Third place winner “Into the Sun” was submitted by Alessandra Sanchez from Community School of Naples.

“What spoke to me about this photo was the sense of appreciation as this snowy egret gazes across the gulf during sunset,” judge Nancy Adams remarked. “It seems we humans are not the only ones to recognize beauty around us.”

Honorable mention winners are listed below.

Judges and contest coordinators expressed great difficulty in narrowing down the choices. “Amazing work by all,” said award-winning photographer West. “It was very hard to choose a winner.”

“Theodore Cross’ family made this contest possible, and it has become a solid success story,” said Birgie Miller Gresham, DDWS executive director. “We couldn’t be more thrilled the family wants its donations used in this way – to reach an age group that often falls through the cracks of conservation education. Thanks to the ‘Ding’ staff, high school teachers, and judges who made this all happen.”

“We are so happy to be supporting a contest in my father’s name, a contest that will get our youth involved with nature by looking at it – as my father so loved doing – through a camera lens,” said Amanda Cross.

Students were able to submit up to two photographs. To view winning images online and for information on the 2024 photo contest, visit dingdarlingsociety.org/articles/photo-contests.

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)

• Emma Best – “Dragonfly” – Cape Coral High School
• Kyler Carter – “Branches of Electricity” – Cypress Lake High School
• Adrian Cox – “Watchful Eye” – Cypress Lake High School
• Mlkeal Hernandez – “Nestlings in the Nest” – Lehigh Senior High School
• Despina Kik – “Bee” – Island Coast High School
• Khaleb Nunez – “Blue” – Lehigh Senior High School
• Zulai Perez – “Beautiful Yellow Rose” – Cypress Lake High School
• Jillian Peska – “Wonder” – Cape Coral High School
• Daysie Rogers – “Free as a Bird” – Cypress Lake High School
• Leslie Velasco – “Drop of Water” – Lehigh Senior High School
• Cole Wesener – “Robin” – Cape Coral High School

As a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, DDWS works to support J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s mission of conservation, wildlife and habitat protection, research, and public education through charitable donations and Refuge Nature Shop profits. To support DDWS and the refuge with a tax-deductible gift, visit dingdarlingsociety.org or contact Birgie Miller Gresham at 239-292-0566 or director@dingdarlingsociety.org.

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