Home Local Sports Tomorrow’s Talent: Ella Popowich and Dane Cipriani

Tomorrow’s Talent: Ella Popowich and Dane Cipriani

Ella Popowich (left) and Dane Cipriani (right).

With 2021-22 school year now over, area high school sports fans have a couple of months off before the Richmond Raider sports teams are in action again. 

For those that do not follow middle school sports, the Richmond Observer will take a look at some future Raiders that you may or may not know about. Today’s featured female and male middle school athlete are Ella Popowich of Cordova Middle and Dane Cipriani of Hamlet Middle.

Ella Popowich

To say that rising freshman Ella Popowich enjoys staying busy is an understatement.  As a Cordova middle schooler, Popowich participated in as much as possible and each coach, teacher or administrator that called her name during this year’s academic and athletic awards ceremony took the opportunity to acknowledge her work ethic.

Popowich served as a cheerleader, volleyball player and soccer player for Cordova during her last year at the school.  Unlike the other middle schools, Cordova doesn’t offer special awards in each sport, so the only acknowledgements of the year in the area of athletics for the Cavaliers are the male and female athlete of the year awards.

“This won’t come as any surprise,” said Cordova Middle P.E. teacher Richard Kerekes when announcing Popowich as the winner of the female athlete of the year award.  “For three years straight, she’s participated in almost every sport we have here and has done well in all of them.  She always gives her best regardless of the activity, always.”

Earlier in the ceremony, Kerekes also presented Popowich and classmate Jamesyn Quick with the 8th Grade Girls P.E. Award for their participation and performance in his physical education classes over the last three years.

“Ella is such an amazing young lady that was never afraid to put in the hard work and pump up her teammates,” shared Cordova teacher and coach Terrina Harris.  “She was dedicated to each sport she played. Each time Popowich kicked a soccer ball, swung a bat, spiked a volleyball or chanted a cheer she found happiness and joy.”

Popowich also received acknowledgements for her participation with the yearbook and for having the highest average scores for her class in E.L.A., science, math and social studies. 

When it came time to announce the winner of Cordova’s eight grade academic excellence award, principal Joyce McRae did not even call out Popowich’s name.  McRae simply said the name of the award, and almost as if it were scripted, the entire student body in attendance yelled “Ella Popowich” in unison and cheered as Popowich collected the award.

Popowich also won the James A. Pippin, Jr. North Carolina History Award.  The award, which is given in memory of the distinguished Richmond County social studies teacher who passed away in 2017, was established by the Richmond County Historical Society to encourage area middle school students to develop an interest in the history of their own community.

“Ella was not just a leader on the court but also around the school,” Harris continued.  “She was voted BETA President for the 21-22 school year by her peers. She was well rounded and true to all that she did at Cordova Middle. She is a true example of an athlete that showed determination and motivation. I can’t wait to see all that Ella will achieve in life.”

Dane Cipriani

During his eighth grade school year at Hamlet Middle School, Dane Cipriani played basketball and baseball for the Red Rams.  Cipriani enjoyed his time with his Hamlet teammates and was unable to really decide on an athletic highlight for his final year at the school.


“My favorite moments were anytime I was with my team – on and off the field or on and off the court,” shared Cipriani.  “Thanks to them for always hyping me up.  Also, thanks to my coaches for pushing me and teaching me the best kind of athlete is a coachable one.”

In all of his sporting endeavors, Cipriani serves as both athlete and entertainer.  His jovial enthusiasm and courageousness are noticed by all students and instructors who have had the chance to spend time with him.

“Dane is someone who always gives his best effort,” said Hamlet basketball coach Keith Parsons.  “He’s someone who genuinely roots for his teammates at all times and wants only the best for them and for the team. He’s also fearless, as evidenced by his bull riding abilities.”

While his determination on the basketball court and his time playing with the conference champion Red Rams baseball team are noteworthy, Cipriani is unquestionably best known for his bull riding.  

“I am a bull rider outside of school,” Cipriani shared. “I ride in the SJBRA (Southeast Junior Bullriders Association) where I will attend my first world finals in Texas this August.  I ride in the WCMB (World Championship Miniature Bullriding Association) where I am the reserve champion for the E.W. Mini Bucking Bull series. I also attended the world finals in Mesquite, Texas, with the WCMB where I finished 29th out of 140 contestants my first year.”

E.W. Mini Bucking Bulls is a Denton, NC based business.  William Moore, who co-owns the business with his wife, describes it online as a “veteran-owned and family operated business that teaches youth riders safety and knowledge of bulls while providing stock for miniature rodeo events.”

“He’s just a goofy kid,” said Moore of Cipriani.  “He loves making everyone laugh.  He was our reserve champion last year.  When it comes to bull riding, he has no quit – his two casts tell the story.  He broke his right wrist, so with his arm in a cast, he tried to ride with his left hand and broke that one too.  Now he’s sitting in two casts.”

Fortunately, Cipriani had already qualified for his planned championship trip prior to the injuries, so being unable to compete during the summer will not hurt his eligibility.  “I guess he broke them at the right time,” laughed Moore.

While his bull riding abilities may not translate to scholastic sports at Richmond Senior, Cipriani does plan to try out for baseball and basketball at the high school.  

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