WHS Academic Team takes top honors

For the first time in at least 20 years, Waxahachie High School’s UIL Academic team was named district champion.

The big moment happened March 26, and now more than 20 students are preparing for the next round of UIL District 5A Academic competition — regionals April 21 through April 24 iat Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.

“As far as I can remember, and I’ve been coaching UIL for 15 years, I don’t remember us ever winning district before. We’ve come in second several times, but never winning. I even asked coaches who had been here a while, and they don’t remember us ever winning,” said Megan Mills, the WHS librarian and UIL Academic Coordinator. “So, it’s kind of a big deal in the academic world.”

The way that Academic UIL competition works is competitors get points debate and speech, academics and One Act Play. To be named overall district champion, a school almost has to have the perfect storm, Mills said. A school has to advance in One Act Play competition to get 25 points, place in the debate and speech field to bring in a lot of points and then the academic end has to carry a certain number of points in as well, she said, adding team points are awarded as well.

The One Act Play advanced to bi-district. Four students placed in speech and debate, and then 20 students advanced to regionals, plus four teams advanced, too, she said.

“We looked at the points yesterday, and we only beat Ennis by 40 points,” Mills said. “It was just the two of us, and then Red Oak was third and the Mansfield schools were below that. We’re in this district with all the Mansfield schools, Arlington Seguin, Ennis, Lancaster and Red Oak. It’s the football district, it’s the same. It’s not an easy district, and I would consider us to be in a difficult academic district as well.”

In total, 24 students will advance to regionals in UIL Academics, and the cast of the One Act Play advanced to bi-district competition. In years past, WHS has had an average of about nine students who advanced to regionals, Mills said. The academic contest doesn’t have a bi-district or area level, like One Act Play competition does, Mills explained, adding the levels are district, regionals and then state. The WHS One Act Play team competed in bi-district Friday night and advanced on to the area competition.

WHS senior Chip Autry competed in the UIL Current Events and Issues contest at the district level, and placed first in his individual competition and his team placed first as well.

“It shows that Waxahachie is encouraging education in the community and students are actually interested in what’s going on in the everyday world,” said Autry, who wants to study business management and possibly go into law school, adding that the competition plays an important role in his future career and helps him as well as other students develop informed opinions about important current events. “It’s a really big honor to be apart of a group of students who have shown that Waxahachie cares about continuing education in the community and teaching kids to be involved in these academic competitions. A lot of these programs put a focus on sports and fine arts, but we we also need to focus on academic competitions. The fact that we’ve finally won shows that Waxahachie is moving toward focusing on that side of competition.”

WHS was also named as the top journalism team in the UIL Academics meet, as well as placed in top rankings for individual competitions like news writing, feature writing, editorial writing and headline writing, said Chrisanna Melick, the WHS journalism, newspaper and yearbook instructor.

“For mine to prepare for regionals, we’ve noticed everything gets harder. Trying to find the news peg and news story is not just right out there in front of you. You have to dig for it a little more,” Melick said. “So, we need to practice on some past regional materials, because it’s all a little harder.”

To win be named UIL Academic district champions, Mills said the win means quite a bit for the district.

“We celebrate athletics. We have really strong athletics, and we have really strong fine arts, but I think people forget we are also very strong academically, too,” Mills said. “We do have National Merit Scholars every year. We do have high SAT scores, and that’s not always really in the limelight.”

“Maybe that’s because it’s more individual-based, but this is as a team, as a school,” Melick interjected, adding that a lot of fine arts and athletic students also do well on the academic level. “If the football team won district, that would be a big story. If the basketball team won district, that would be a big story. So this should be on the same level, if not higher, because it’s academics and it’s across all sorts of categories.”

Mills said prior to district, the students competed in three practice meets against teams in a district larger than than them.

“We competed really well against 6A schools, and you know if you can stand on your own with 6A schools, you know with 5A you should be pretty good,” Mills said. “I was nervous it wouldn’t happen, because you never know what’s going to happen and district tests are harder than invitational tests. All four of my students were in the top eight, so we pretty much wiped everybody out.”

Jessica Lenamond, a sophomore and first time UIL Academic competitor, took third place in feature writing. She wrote about a girl earning a medal of valor from a police department, and the win gave her pride about what she could do in the future as a possible journalist, she said.

“I was proud of our team, and it felt good to be No. 1 in our district,” she said, adding Melick inspired her to become interested in the field. “I would like to current events instead of made-up things eventually, and writing about that stuff let’s us know about the now. I’ve thought about majoring in journalism, but I still have a little ways to go. This is the only time I’ve done UIL, and to be able to go this far was exciting.”

If there was any advice Mills or Melick could give to the students as they prepare for regionals throughout the next few weeks, it’s to relax and have fun, Melick said. The regional level adds more schools from the Highland Park, Frisco and all of the east Texas schools, Mills said, adding not only are there more students, but the competition is much more stiff.

“It’s a whole different ball game. My kids go to regionals a lot, and in 23 years, I’ve only had about five kids go to state,” Melick said. “To make it to that jump is a huge accomplishment. So, I just want them to know that if they don’t make it, it’s OK, they’ve already accomplished something great already. We get to go down there, spend the night, visit the college. It’s just about enjoying this and doing your best.”


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