Recently, Hellgate High School held its Spring Assembly in which athletes receive recognition for their successes throughout the year. This recognition is important; however, I know that such an event has caused some disappointment among several students, as it seems some groups were left out. Not once during the assembly were academic or arts groups mentioned, such as speech and debate or our band. This event is the pinnacle of what I see as fundamental cultural problem at the high school level. Sports players are revered as essential fixtures to the community, while hard-working, award-receiving scholars and artists fall to the wayside, gaining little acknowledgement from the school community.

I, a sophomore at Hellgate, have personal experience with this. During March of this year I traveled to the state basketball competition in Billings, as a member of the dance team. I traveled with my teammates on the bus alongside our school’s cheer and basketball teams. As we prepared to leave Missoula, our principal boarded the bus and delivered an inspirational speech to thank us, in particular the basketball team, for the role we play in the Missoula community, an act which I believe each of us felt was very special.

Conversely, also in March of this year, I competed alongside other sophomores from Hellgate – Jorunn Loken, Cy Burchenal and Jeremy Heng – in the Montana Academic World Quest competition, which we won. We will now travel to Washington, D.C., as the Montana representatives to the national World Quest competition. I, along with my teammates, can say we never received a congratulatory word from any administrator at Hellgate.

We’re not the only ones. Following the assembly I became curious about all the things outside athletics happening at Hellgate that I might not be aware of, so I did some research. I was blown away by what I discovered.

This year Hellgate has six students traveling to Kansas City for the National Speech and Debate Competition: Jalynn Nelson, Hudson Therriault, Jed Syrenne, Mayzie Shaver, Ezekiel Peterson and Henry Hughes. Those whom I spoke to agreed, there was lacking recognition for this academic feat.

On the arts side, at Montana’s Thespian Festival, the play “Apartment Story,” written by Jackson Parker and directed by Maya Dittloff, both Hellgate students, won several awards including Best Student Written Play statewide. Upon speaking with them I learned they shared my sentiment.

I learned this week, through my investigation, that the scope of talent reaches further at Hellgate than ever I knew. For example, in March 2013, Hellgate’s wind ensemble was picked out of hundreds of applicants to perform as one of five bands at the Chicago International Music Festival, where they earned the gold award and were judged as the best band in attendance. This week, our choir has members at a music festival in New York City, where they will perform in Carnegie Hall.

I’m sure there are other examples, but the unfortunate reality is that while I’ve heard plenty about the achievements of athletes, I don’t know what students at my school are accomplishing in academics and the arts. I want to stress that this is not a problem with Hellgate as a whole. Upon winning the World Quest competition my teachers were congratulatory and supportive, as were students who heard about our success. Hellgate does have in place programs to reward academic achievers, such as an awards night open to parents and teachers. But this small formality is nothing in comparison to a mandatory all-school assembly.

I believe the issue at hand is the culture the school has created, through unparalleled hype about sporting events and athletes, which holds athletic achievements to a higher esteem than any other. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this phenomenon stretches far beyond the city limits of Missoula, because I know that the culture of the United States treats athletes as the highest heroes. But that does not sway my frustration.

I believe that at the high school level, acknowledging kids for their work and achievements is important, and would love to see all high-achieving students, from basketball players to debaters to actors alike, be rewarded and appreciated equally.

Emma Harrison is a sophomore at Hellgate High School.

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(5) comments


It's worth mentioning that last year the same assembly Emma is writing about was EXACTLY as she claims it should be in her column. It was divided into two phases, the first half recognized athletes, while the second half recognized academic/club achievers. Yes, this included speech and debate, Latin club, Academic World Quest, Math Competitors, etc. I have no idea why it was changed this year, and I do agree that this was a poor decision. In future years I think the assembly should be organized as it was the FIRST year. However, I think the claim that just because this year non-athletes were not recognized suddenly Hellgate is failing to recognize any of its non-athletic achievers is a very premature allegation. This is not some issue that has dragged on for years, we are talking about a change from last year, that is all. The "issue" I refer to is only the assembly to recognize athletes and non-athletes, while I do agree that athletes are favored over other students in a broad academic sense. Emma was a student at Hellgate when the initial assembly took place, so I am surprised she does not take note of the fact that the assembly she hopes for was a reality only a year ago.

Sue Orr

I was at this assembly as a parent who just happened to be at the school that day. I was appalled at the time given for this assembly, when all involved complain there is not enough time in the day! The stupid relay race that took place was just ridiculous. The fact that students were told they were going to be recognized and then weren't was unforgivable. Most of the teachers roll their eyes but keep their tongues firmly in their cheeks about this.. Athletes work hard, I know.......but so do these great students. I asked the Missoulian to cover the story of the Hellgate Choir trip to New York, and to their credit they did, but no pictures were involved, which would have been nice and I did send them.


Hooray, Montana Jack, Sue Orr and Ellen. We need to make heroes of students in fields like engineering and math and art. Administrators seem to think art is just pictures in a museum. But art is a big part of the economy in product design, marketing, sales display, architecture. Few students will make a living in athletics, but many will contribute to the economy as engineers, scientists, artists, and historians. Let's encourage and challenge all of them.

jus wundrin
jus wundrin

Many years ago when I was in grade school, we had assemblies to honor academic achievement amongst our peers. Nice looking certificates were handed out along with some medallion awards to the highest achievers. These were kids I looked up to, and was inspired by so that some day I could also receive an award for achievement.

Sadly though the new progressive thinking was making the rounds in the gubment schools, and award ceremonies like this were deemed verboten as so not to harm other children's self esteem. Kids were beginning to be balkanized into separate learning groups based on assessment, and all thoughts of excelling were thrown out the window.

Take your letter to the school board Emma, along with other like minded students, and stand for principal. Your inspiration just might change some lives.


This is a well written and salient article about a real problem. I hope Hellgate does consider a whole school assembly that honors all excellence, not just athletic. It is disappointing to hear there wasn't one already.

On another note, something must be going right over there if this letter from a high school sophomore is an indication of student voice and work quality: Emma Harrison, congratulations on speaking up, and speaking up well.

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