Meet Gainesville’s new high school sports reporter Ainslie Lee


A career in sports writing wasn’t on my radar until my sophomore year of college.

I was a health science major at Stetson University with aspirations of becoming an athletic trainer — a career that I had zeroed in on as a middle schooler.

Growing up, sports was what bonded my family.

My younger brother and I both played Pop Warner football growing up and my dad coached. In the fall, we spent Monday through Friday at the ball fields perfecting our craft in the sport and exploiting dad out of dollar bills for hamburgers and candy bars from the concession stand.

As the boys around me grew bigger and stronger, my size plateaued at 5-foot-2 and I had to hang up my football cleats. Meanwhile, my brother continued to play, my dad continued to coach and I continued to tag along as a glorified water girl and professional Band-Aid-applier.

Years of doing that pointed me in the direction of sports medicine.

But it only took one interaction with a high school sports reporter on a Friday night in October of 2017 to derail the plans I had in place since sixth grade.

I was sitting on the top step of the bleachers at Belleview High School “reporting” on the varsity football game for my journalism course. I made the drive from Stetson to my alma mater every Friday to stand on the sidelines helping the athletic training staff and to watch my younger brother play.

But that night I was a part of the media.

Sitting next to me was an actual sports reporter for the Ocala Star-Banner. He wasn’t playing pretend like I was.

As we struck up small talk, he told me that if I emailed him my story, he’d be happy to look it over and give me feedback. When the much-awaited email finally arrived, I was shocked at what he wrote.

I forgot to include the score.

I had stats and I had quotes; but there was no winner, no loser and no final score.

But despite the mishap, I was offered an opportunity to freelance with the Star-Banner. And as a college student, any kind of side gig was attractive, so I did it.

That was four years ago.

Since then, I have graduated from the University of Florida’s School of Journalism and Communications — the place I transferred to shortly after I finished the journalism course at Stetson.

I quickly onboarded with ESPN Gainesville, where I worked as the Florida Gators football and softball beat reporter.

I was hooked.

I went on to pick up internships with Sports Illustrated and Buddy Martin’s GatorBait Magazine. I’ve written features on former Gators receiver Freddie Swain, current Gators softball star Cheyenne Lindsey and even a female kicker who Steve Spurrier was an eyelash from signing in the ’90s.

I’ve worked for College GameDay where I met Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, David Pollack, Rece Davis and Maria Taylor.

I covered the Citrus Bowl between Alabama and Michigan at the start of 2020. And had you told me that Nick Saban would be one of the few coaches I’d cover that year, I would have called you a liar.

But through it all, I never stopped reporting on high school sports in Ocala.

Covering sports in the SEC is time consuming. But I always made sure I found time to give high school sports the coverage it deserved.

The value that high school sports brings to a community can’t be understated.

High school sports programs are a way many identify themselves.

Think about it: When you run into a native from your hometown, you never ask where they lived, but rather where they went to school.

It’s a way for people of all ages to connect and bond.

It brings a community together — even with heated rivalries. Because at the end of the day, we’re talking about your people from your town.

Writing about high school student-athletes means writing about your neighbors.

And it’ll take a fellow neighbor to do that well.

I couldn’t be more excited for this new endeavor and to bring my commitment to high school sports to Gainesville — a place I plan to call home as long as you’ll let me.

I can’t promise I’ll be perfect, but I promise I’ll remember to include the final score.

— Ainslie Lee is The Gainesville Sun’s high school sports writer. Contact her at And follow her on Twitter: @AinsliesTwoBits

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