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Countdown to 10-Year: UIL

In eight days, I will be attending my 10 Year Class Reunion. In these days, I will take the opportunity to look back on ten of my favorite elements of high school (in no particular order of importance)…

#8 – UIL

When I moved to Nashville, I received a harsh reality. UIL is a Texas-only thing. This was something I did not know, and I now feel compelled to attempt to explain what, exactly, UIL is.

Directly from the UIL web-site:

The University Interscholastic League was created by The University of Texas at Austin to provide leadership and guidance to public school debate and athletic teachers. Since 1909 the UIL has grown into the largest inter-school organization of its kind in the world. […] The purpose of the UIL is to organize and properly supervise contests that assist in preparing students for citizenship. It aims to provide healthy, character building, educational activities carried out under rules providing for good sportsmanship and fair play for all participants. (link)

So, long story short, UIL over sees the competitions (both athletic and academic) between public schools in Texas, and it decides what school districts are in what district/region/area, etc.  When you participate in UIL, you’re participating in some event overseen by the organization.

My collection of medals from UIL events
My collection of medals from UIL events

I participated in UIL academics starting in third grade with “Ready Writing.” I competed writing papers based on a given prompt in a given amount of time through eighth grade.

In high school, I was introduced to UIL Journalism. For all four years of high school, I competed in News Writing, Feature Writing and Headline Writing.

My freshman year was, without a doubt, my most successful year. Beginners luck, perhaps. Or perhaps it was because it was new and I just gave it more time and effort perfecting the skills needed to compete at the top level. I won third place in both Headline Writing and News Writing at the District Level. I took fourth in Feature Writing that same year, and advanced to Regionals as an alternate in that competition.

That was the last year that my district participated in Regional competition in Kingsville, Texas. A five hour drive by car… a seven hour drive by school bus. We all piled onto the bus — atleast two to a seat, plus luggage in the Spring Texas heat. By the end of that drive, I’m not sure ANYONE was getting along with one another anymore.

However, at the end of that long bus ride laid some of my best memories of my freshman year.

Three girls in one King-size bed. Up late watching Nick-at-Nite (back when it was really good) and “Blue Lagoon.” Fatigue giving way to dumb jokes, “Lee King Bucket” and “Bessie the Heifer” for my two friends who will get that. A hambuger and fries for breakfast. And competition on the Texas A&M University – Kingsville campus.

I took fourth place in News Writing this time… once again an alternate for the next level of competition: State. Headline Writing was the last competition of the Journalism contests that day. A friend who competed in Editorial Writing had advanced to State already, and she claimed she wouldn’t go if I wasn’t going as well.

Time came for the announcement and we went in search for the rankings. I couldn’t find them in the area we thought they would be…

You know those moments in time in which everything just seems to go into slow motion? That is how it was, when I heard my name called down the hall and I turned to see my friend coming straight at me with #1 held up on her hand. I remember screaming and suddenly being tackled in big bear hugs… not sure if I should cry or dance around. First place at Regional Level. I was going to STATE!!!!

A few weeks later, I was climbing into the backseat of my sponsor’s car, heading to Austin, Texas. The school put us up in a very (VERY!) nice hotel in downtown Austin and we had a fantastic dinner the night before competition.

3A Second Place State Medal
3A Second Place State Medal

The next day, I found myself right in the middle of the University of Texas campus, and I have to say: it is a beautiful campus! I ended up spending the whole day on campus due to the timing of my competition. But at the end of the day, I walked away holding the second place, silver medal for all of 3A schools in Headline Writing.

I would never again make it to State competition in my high school career. I made it to Regionals again twice — my sophomore and my senior year. My Sophomore year, I placed fifth in news writing, failing to advance. Then, in a cruel twist of fate, Regional competition in 1999 was the same day as my Senior Prom. Luckily it was on the Blinn Campus in Brenham, Texas. An easy hour and a half drive from home, and the school approved my driving myself to the competition. However, my mind was not on the competition at hand, and I failed to place at all.

I still have my medals on display in my office to remind myself of the things I can succeed in doing if I just put my mind to it. Successes that are now over 10 years old till drive me forward.

I, personally, think other states could learn a lot from the University Interscholastic League. The competitions it sponsors challenge students, offering both the sweet taste of success and the bitter pill of failure. It offers the chance to interact with students from all areas of the state and all walks of life while also giving many a chance to see areas of the state they’d never see otherwise (like I’d have never gone to Kingsville!).

UIL definitely offered to me many, many wonderful memories and stands as one of my favorite things about my high school career.

Countdown to 10-Year: Colorguard & Band

In nine days, I will be attending my 10 Year Class Reunion. In these days, I will take the opportunity to look back on ten of my favorite elements of high school (in no particular order of importance)…

#9 – Colorguard & Band

Setting up for band photo -- 1998
Setting up for band photo -- 1998

I still clearly remember going to pep rallies in elementary school and staring at the girls with the flags with great big hearts in my eyes. I was going to be a flag girl some day. I had to be. This was an important endeavor in my life. It was the be-all, end-all.

To be a member of the Flag Corp (or Colorguard as we came to refer to it later), you had to be a member of band. So when the decision came in fifth grade to be in band or not, the answer was a no-brainer. Yes! Yes! Yes!

I ended up playing flute in band. Throw out your best “American Pie” joke here, if you must, but, I played flute and low and behold I was dang good at it! My freshman year of high school, I quickly advanced into the top few chairs of the flute section. In fact at the end of the year, I sat second chair below a graduating senior. I was poised to become section leader, but my dream remained to be a flag.

Finally eligible to try out, I still remember the day that flag pole first landed in my hands. It was quickly discovered I had a natural talent for it! Nonetheless, I practiced and practiced. Few things had ever been this important to me.

It was quickly assumed I was a shoo-in, and I was on cloud nine. I was so close I could taste it. I was practically already being measured for my new uniform.

Friends hanging out in the band hall -- 1996
Friends hanging out in the band hall -- 1996

Tryout day came. I was in one of the last groups to go in to try out. I was a total basket-case. Fundamentals were simple and I nailed those. Then we had to perform a routine.

I still remember the routine was to, “What’s Going On” by 4 Non Blondes. The music started. No one has ever crashed and burned as spectacularly as I did. The routine I could do in my sleep became this huge impossible task to my arms. My timing was off. My mind could not get the next part right. There was no saving myself. I walked out defeated.

I obviously didn’t make the squad that year.

I was, in a word, heartbroken. In my mind, my whole life hinged on becoming a flag. I had talked to my mom at length about how important it was to happen for me. I really could not comprehend NOT being a flag… and yet here I was a sophomore and not a flag.

My talents playing flute quickly threw me into playing piccolo. A whole new level of torture and complement all wrapped into one shrill, tiny instrument. I wasn’t a flag, and life went on nonetheless. I found successes elsewhere, but my heart still longed to accomplish that dream. Another year passed and try outs came back around.

Once again, my natural talent for performing, flag in hand, came out. This year, though, it wasn’t so life-and-death to become a flag. I went into it with a clearer head and a whole new level of confidence. I went in knowing I knew how to do this. I went in knowing I was good. I went in knowing the world would not end if for some reason I once again failed.

Performing with the Colorguard -- 1998
Performing with the Colorguard -- 1998

The day of try-outs I went home sick from school. (I later went to the doctor to learn I had a nasty case of the flu.) I came back to school that afternoon to try out nonetheless. I had a 100 degree temperature, and I still remember laying down in the hallway outside the gym in total misery. I was so sick, and yet I went into the gym, tried out with all my heart, and I made the squad ranked third in line from the top.

I was ecstatic, but also a lot more respectful of what it meant than I would have been had I gotten my dream the first time around. I took it a lot more seriously.

The next two years, I performed during football season as a member of the Colorguard, and I spent the second semester still playing my flute.

My senior year, our half-time show was “A Chorus Line” and the Colorguard did the high kicks. I still remember the night we did the full show at half time. I still remember it all coming together so perfectly. I still remember the standing ovation we received from the stands upon doing our high kicks. I still remember that rush. Its one of those feelings a person never forgets.

Band and Colorguard took up probably a solid half of my high school career. You can call me a band nerd, I don’t care. The experiences I had in that organization molded me into who I am more than most things ever did in my life.

Playing flute after a parade -- 1999
Playing flute after a parade -- 1999

My failure to make flags my freshman year taught me the taste of defeat and to not put so much emphasis on some that arbitrary. But my determination to try again the next year showed me how to never give up on a dream.

My time spent as captain my senior year taught me elements of leadership that can be ugly but also rewarding. It taught me to stand up for myself and for the people who were depending on me. It taught me elements of being an adult that to this day I rely upon.

Playing music in band definitely taught me a lot about music and all its dynamics. I definitely have leaned upon those fundamentals since marrying a musician and music literally becoming my life. And the friendships I nurtured through my days in band are some of the friendships I still have today. The memories and laughter, the victories and the not-as-great-as-we-hopeds, the pride and disappointment. These are all memories and lessons that I cherish deeply.