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.