homepage logo

‘Ding’ Darling announces high school photo contest winners

By Staff | Apr 10, 2019

JACKSON MYTNIK “Owl at Sunset” took first place.

At a special ceremony on March 30, the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge announced the winners and finalists in the sixth annual “Ding” Darling-Theodore Cross High School Photography Contest at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel.

Sponsored by the Theodore Cross Family Charitable Foundation, the competition invited high school students from Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades, and Hendry counties to compete for prizes that included a Canon digital SLR camera package, chartered class trips to the refuge, Tarpon Bay Explorers excursions, and copies of “Waterbirds: Portraits and Anecdotes from Birding Adventures” by contest namesake, the late Theodore Cross.

Cross, who lived part-time on Sanibel and has family that still visits, 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 shot often at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and a number of the images in his book reflect his love for the refuge. Cross published “Waterbirds” in 2009 at age 85; he passed away shortly after that in February 2010.

News-Press photojournalist Andrew West judged this year’s contest, along with acting Refuge Manager Bill Miller and Sanibel resident Laura Harkey. They reviewed 122 images taken by students from 16 different schools.

NATHANIEL PECHENINO “Leaves at the Beach” won second place.

First place went to “Owl at Sunset,” by Jackson Mytnik from Cape Coral High.

“What’s not to love about any owl?” Harkey asked. “These guys are just too cute. I tend to favor wildlife over vegetation.”

In second place, Nathaniel Pechenino from Island Coast High portrayed “Leaves at the Beach.”

“I love the composition, I love the light, how the photographer used the light,” West said. “It has a good vibe, it feels good. It makes me want to dive into that water.”

Third place winner “Inversion” was submitted by Ethan Epperly of Port Charlotte High School.

ETHAN EPPERLY In third place was “Inversion.”

“I like the fact that the colors are not what you’d expect; they’re not blue, but purple,” Miller said. “The light pulls me in. I’m on a journey. There’s a lot to find and discover in the image.”

Judges and contest coordinators expressed great difficulty in narrowing down the choices.

“It always amazes me, the quality of photos we get from these young adults,” “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge Development Officer Sierra Hoisington, who coordinates the contest said. “We marvel at the unique perspectives and angles.”

“Theodore Cross’ family made this contest possible, and it has become a solid success story,” DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled that the family wants its donations used in this way – to reach an age group that often falls through the cracks of conservation education. Kudos to Development Officer Sierra Hoisington, volunteer Terry Baldwin, and our staff for a fabulous job of running the contest.”

“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,” Amanda Cross said.

PHOTO PROVIDED Contest judges Andrew West, Laura Harkey, and Bill Miller hold winning photos with contest coordinators Sierra Hoisington and Terry Baldwin.

Students were able to submit up to two photographs.

Winning and honorable mention images are on display at the refuge’s Education & Visitor Center. To view online or for details on the 2020 contest, visit dingdarlingsociety.org/articles/photo-contests.


– Asai Aviles, of Cape Coral High

– Samantha Colon, of Island Coast High

– Hailey Gervais, of Cape Coral High

– Brigette Grover, of Port Charlotte High

– Hannah Hendry, of Gulf Coast High

– Kaylie Morgen, of Ida S. Baker High

– Kynlee Price, of Ida S. Baker High

– Hailey Rozanski, of South Fort Myers High

– Sedona Scott, of Cape Coral High

– Yalexis Sensat, of Ida S. Baker High


– Bella Bastedo, of Port Charlotte High

– Adara Bonilla, of Cape Coral High

– Meegan DeYoung, of Port Charlotte High

– Eric Feichthaler, of Oasis High

– Julian Gonzalez, of Cypress Lake High

– Ilyssa Harrison, of Cape Coral High

– Hannah Hendry, of Gulf Coast High

– Luis Hernandez-Trejo, of Labelle High

– Leah Herold, of Ida S. Baker High

– Paige Moyer, of Port Charlotte High

– Nathaniel Pechenino, of Island Coast High

– Gabriella Schol, of Cypress Lake High

– Sedona Scott, of Cape Coral High

– Hannah Simon, of Cape Coral High

– Kailyn Uria, Island of Coast High

– Lauren VanDyke, of Cape Coral High

– Christina Walch, of Cape Coral High