BLHS student journalists advance to state competition
Sitting in a room full of your peers, a fact sheet and a few quotes are placed in front of you, then suddenly you have 90 minutes to write the best story you've ever written. But, perhaps most importantly, it also has to be a story the judges think is better than your fellow competitors'.
The Kansas Scholastic Press Association Regional Competition can be a little nerve wracking, but it's what Basehor-Linwood High School journalism teacher, David Svoboda calls "the truest form of journalistic writing." And it's an excellent way to challenge his students.
About 25 years ago, Svoboda participated in the same competition. Since then he's been a judge and a student adviser for the competition, a stringer at a handful of area newspapers, held several editor positions at his college newspaper, The Kansas State Collegian, and has spent the past 15 years as a high school journalism teacher.
With all this experience, Svoboda is well aware of the benefits students receive when they're given an encouraging shove out of their comfort zone.
"I like sparking interest or opening a door to something they may not have thought of," he said. "It's largely because my journalism adviser in college pushed me beyond something I though was within my ability."
More than 400 students from 23 high schools competed alongside BLHS students in one of six regional competitions Feb. 23, at Kansas University. While all students gained some experience, 10 walked away from the regional competition with an invitation to do it all over again at the state competition May 5.
Qualifying for state is nothing new to junior Tia Oelschlaeger, co-editor of the yearbook, since she's done it twice previously. But another year didn't quiet her enthusiasm.
Oelschlaeger along with yearbook editor Josh Ross, senior, worked on what is called a "carry-in." They were given four different theme ideas before the regional competition and had to choose one to create an example yearbook cover, theme page and introduction page. Their four weeks of work prior to the competition earned them first place.
Oelschlaeger, who said she wants to make journalism a career later in life, recalls the agonizing wait and her reaction to their placement.
"It took probably four hours, and I didn't find out until we were about ready to leave," she said about the competition results. "When I found out I jumped up and down and screamed."
While Ross was not available for comment at the time of the interview he said in an earlier press release that he was also excited about the duo's first place finish.
"... Achieving first place in the competition was amazing and provides great momentum heading into state," he said.
Oelschlaeger said they have chosen a theme from the list for the state yearbook theme development contest but are not sure what they will be doing yet.
Ross also finished second in the cutline writing competition.
A photo Travis Inlow took of one of his friends working on a car, which demonstrated the given theme of the everyday life of a student, earned him an honorable mention in feature photography.
"I took a photography class my freshman year, and he (Svoboda) said I was good at it," Inlow, a junior and photography editor of the yearbook, said about entering the regional competition.
He said he already had an idea of what he would take a photo of to demonstrate the state competition theme of a school club or organization. Fellow student Austin Hunter, junior, who plays the trumpet, will serve as Inlow's model.
"He's a friend of mine and a dedicated band member," Inlow said.
Sophomore and newspaper spotlight and sports editor Jessyka Coulter endured an onsite editorial writing test and came up with third place. This will be her first time going to the state competition.
Coulter said she enjoyed the freedom of writing opinion pieces for the newspaper but wanted to experience all aspects of the newspaper.
"I'm trying to do everything because I want to do journalism later in life," she said. "I want to show my versatility."
She also said the onsite editorial writing was difficult and there really wasn't a good way to prepare for the state competition.
"You just have to go in and hope it's a topic you care about," Coulter said.
"You're at their mercy, so it's tough if you're not passionate about the topic," Svoboda said.
Another aspiring journalist, Erin Fisher, senior and managing editor of the newspaper, earned third place at state through headline writing.
"He (Svoboda) put me in the competition for headlines, and I hadn't done one like that before," said Fisher, who will be taking her third trip to state. "I got third, which kind of surprised me."
Sophomore Amber Jeannin received honorable mention for her entry in the headline writing competition.
Both girls had to write headlines for three different stories according to the specifications given, such as size, font type and the number of lines allowed. They also had to submit a graphic art headline.
While some students see a career forming from their high school journalism experiences, others are just testing the waters.
Amanda Leive, senior and front page news editor for the newspaper, took honorable mention in advertising design. She said she was given a business name and had to create the elements involved in an ad, such as photos and logos.
While she has no plans to pursue a career in journalism, she said her experiences in the field would help her find a career in a creative field such as design.
Senior Austin Knipp and junior Ryan Sirridge both earned awards in the regional sports writing competition.
While Knipp is the current yearbook sports editor, he was the newspaper sports editor last semester and took home second place in the newspaper sports writing competition.
Sirridge is a sports writer for the yearbook and received an honorable mention for his yearbook sports piece.
Both agreed the onsite sports writing competition is different from their newspaper and yearbook classes.
"It's kind of different because the information you get is kind of scattered around," Knipp said.
"It's hard to just come up with a story on the spot when they give you the information," Sirridge said.
Newspaper editor-in-chief, Megan Tush, senior, will be making her second trip to state with an honorable mention in feature writing.
She said in her four years on the newspaper, this year's staff is exceptional.
"There are a lot of different types of people and they all have different ways of contributing," she said.
The 10 students will compete in the Kansas Scholastic Press Association's State Competition on May 5 at Kansas University.
Svoboda said that while some schools teach to the competitions, he sees them as good practice for his students. He prefers to make the newspapers and yearbooks the top priorities in his classes. Recognition through awards is just icing on the cake.
"It's not about the awards," he said. "Don't get me wrong, I love it when our kids do well, but the best recognition is when someone picks up a newspaper and says, 'wow, this is great,' or opens up a yearbook and says, 'this is worth every penny I spent.'"