Not all stars are athletes

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I'd like to take the opportunity here to praise some students in our school district who just don't get anywhere near the publicity and recognition they deserve.

Our athletes do a great job, and get a lot of publicity. But the students who take part in the academic extracurricular programs often fall between the cracks, and that isn't fair, because they work every bit as hard, have every bit as much dedication, and work at equally high levels.

Last week, we had a chance to feature the MHHS drama program.

Betty Ashcraft, the former drama instructor, had done a great job building a foundation for this program (and put on more plays each year than the one we erroneously indicated -- sorry about that Betty). The kids under her did quality work.

When she moved on to other opportunities, Taunya Page took over, and building on the foundation Ashcraft laid, has created an even stronger and more diverse program.

You really should go to one of their plays. The kids are good, and live theater is always a better experience than sitting on your couch watching TV. Furthermore, a lot of the funding for the program comes from ticket sales, so showing up to enjoy an evening of thespian entertainment helps support the effort put in by these budding actors and stage technicians.

The same can be said about the speech and debate team, the "Talkin' Tigers." Diana Hooley helped launch this program back in the '90s (pretty much on a shoestring budget), and when she moved on, John Petti wound up with it. Like Page building on Ashcraft' work, Petti built on the solid foundation Hooley had created and today the program features students so good that they are regularly qualifying for national-level competition. Speech and debate competitions aren't something the general public usually turns out to watch, which is too bad. We've covered the locally-produced debate tournament, the U Bus 2 Us event (named because for years the kids had to always go to other schools to compete), and I've had a chance to sit in on some of the presentations. There's some quality work going on there, and if you want to see some genuine high-level thinking and argumentation, watch one of the debate teams at work.

It's possible, with those two programs, that individual students can get some recognition, and we try to give them as much as possible -- we can at least get their names in the paper fairly often.

But for two of the best programs in the district, the band and choir programs, it's often hard to list the kids' names, because there are so many of them. They're all part of a large group, and they're sort of like the linemen on the football team, they do good work but get no specific name recognition most of the time. Unless they've won some individual honors, their individual efforts get buried in the phrase "the band and choirs recently earned top honors at...."

Blake Olmstead directs the choir programs, and he and the instructors at lower levels in the district, have helped mold our young vocalists into some nationally recognized performers. They often travel outside the state to perform and compete, and when they go up against schools from much larger high schools in much larger states, they leave their opposition with dusty throats.

Most of the time, like most of the academic programs, the only people who show up for their concerts are parents of the kids involved. Which is too bad. If you like music, it's worth going and listening to these kids sing. In fact, I highly recommend the Christmas concerts. If their productions won't put you in the mood for the season, I don't know what would.

Jerry Tippets runs the band program, offering a range of opportunities for young musicians, from the marching band to the jazz band.

I'm not sure I'd even want to try and deal with all that goes into a marching band performance (I can't walk and chew gum at the same time, let alone do precision marching while trying to play an instrument). Besides the band members themselves, the flag corps adds significantly to the performance, and it's not unusual for the combined operation to go to competition and bring home awards.

Probably at least one-third of the student body participates in those four programs alone. And as a general rule of thumb, kids who are involved in those programs tend to do well in school and stay out of trouble. They don't have time to get in trouble because the workload to participate is huge.

Then there is a quality art program at the district. I'd like to see those kids' works displayed in a major art show each spring, and I'd like to see the public show up to appreciate it (too much of their stuff is only seen by fellow students).

The automotive classes also take part in competitions, and often do quite well.

And those are just some of the non-athletic extra-curricular programs the district provides that offers students a chance to excel and be recognized for their interests and hard work. I literally can't name them all.

But it is time we saluted them. The kids in these programs have shown a willingness to put in special efforts, to do more than just "hang out" and play video games.

It's from this pool of talent that the future of our community, state and nation will come.

To each and every one of you -- congratulations. Know that you are appreciated by more than just your family and friends.