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Encouraging words: Reasons to be optimistic going into Friday’s IHSA state journalism final!

Even if your school is small or you didn’t win your events at sectionals, IHSA history says you have ample grounds to be positive. The hard part is over — you made state. Now enjoy the rest of the ride.

April 29, 2015

Members of the Mattoon High School journalism team await the start of last week's IHSA sectional at Illinois State University in Normal. Mattoon students qualified for seven events in Friday's state final at Eastern Illinois University.

Photo by Amanda Bright

Members of the Mattoon High School journalism team await the start of last week's IHSA sectional at Illinois State University in Normal. Mattoon students qualified for seven events in Friday's state final at Eastern Illinois University.

NOTE: The author, Dave Porreca, taught journalism and advised student publications at University of Illinois Laboratory High School, Urbana, from 1995 to 2010. He coached journalism teams that won the IHSA state title in 2009 and finished second in 2008.

One of my favorite memories of the IHSA journalism tournament — an event marking its 10th anniversary this year — goes back to 2006, when the inaugural state meet took place.

Oakwood High, a small school in the rural Vermilion County town of Fithian, surprised just about everyone by winning the third-place team trophy in a tie with Glenbrook South, a large Cook County suburban school with a nationally recognized journalism program.

Some 10 years later, that moment still resonates with me because it sums up what makes the IHSA tournament so special.

For the better part of a day, student competitors are on their own, working against tight deadlines to produce work that professionals will judge against rigorous standards.

While they’re on deadline, the students have no one to lean on — not their teachers or their peers. They have to rely on their talent, their instincts and — we advisers hope — the principles of good journalism they’ve learned through classroom instruction and hands-on practice.

The playing field at an IHSA tournament may not be perfectly level, but it’s level enough for talent to win out more often than not — no matter the size, wealth or prestige of a student’s school. Just ask those Oakwood kids.

That’s one reason to be optimistic if you’re competing in Friday’s state final at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.

Your school doesn’t have to be a national powerhouse for you and your teammates to have a shot at winning individual events or even taking home a team trophy.

The playing field at an IHSA tournament may not be perfectly level, but it’s level enough for talent to win out more often than not. Just ask those Oakwood kids.”

With respect to team standings, the state final isn’t like a sectional; your school doesn’t have to score extremely high in a large number of events to finish near the top. Place first, second or third in just a few events, and all of sudden your team will be in contention.

This brings up another reason to be optimistic about state. Don’t worry if you as an individual competitor didn’t take first in any of your sectional events. All that matters is you qualified by placing in the top three. State is a fresh start.

Don’t be intimidated by the numbers. Yes, seven sectionals took place last week. Yes, generally speaking that means 21 students will compete in each state event. And yes, seven students in each event will be sectional champs.

But here are some more facts. Last year, sectional champs won only nine of the 16 events at state. (This year there will be 17 events.)

First place in the other seven state events went to students who didn’t win those events at their sectional.

It gets even better. Only five of the second-place medals in the 16 state events went to sectional champs. The same was true for third place.

Overwhelmingly, the majority of first-, second- and third-place state medals last year — 29 out of 48 — went to students who didn’t win their sectional.

Don’t worry if you as an individual competitor didn’t take first in any of your sectional events. State is a fresh start.”

So if you placed third in a sectional event last week, don’t assume you’re destined for the bottom third at state. Far from it.

Last year, students who finished third at their sectional in editorial writing, info graphics and newspaper design won the state title in those events.

Indeed, in two events — editorial writing and news writing — none of the top three state finishers had won those events at sectionals.

In fact, only one event saw all three of its top medals go to sectional champs: copy editing. That makes sense, since copy editing is an event in which judges can apply reasonably objective standards that leave little room for variation in the move from sectional to state.

With the other events, subjectivity on the part of judges enters the mix to a much greater degree — which means that, for most competitors, state is a whole new ballgame.

Good luck to everyone Friday, and think positive!

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