Lampasas Independent School District has fully committed to UIL academics, which school officials say reaches all campuses and can change the lives of students from the elementary level to high school seniors.
“My perspective, after 34 years of teaching, is UIL is a spot where you can help kids find their niche,” Hanna Springs Elementary School UIL Coordinator Nancy Randolph said. “They find that love of something they have, whether it’s music memory, art, doing creative art contests.”
It’s only been a few years since the Lampasas elementary campuses started competing in UIL events.
“Eight years ago, we restarted elementary UIL,” Mrs. Randolph said. “[Former LISD assistant superintendent] Mrs. Yeary and I met with Janet Melton [the late high school UIL coordinator] and decided we needed to catch them in elementary. We started having the invitational meet. Then the next year we found a district and started competing at district.”
Since then, the district in which local students compete has changed a few times, but one thing remains constant: Lampasas grade-school students really want to compete and enjoy doing so, Kline Whitis Elementary UIL Coordinator Stephanie Rutland said.
“The kids sign up for what they would like to be in,” she said. “Then if we still need kids, coaches think about who would be a good fit for that actual event.”
This year, Kline Whitis sent 96 students to the invitational event, and another 87 went on to compete in the district-level competition. At Hanna Springs Elementary, at least 250 students were involved in the various academic events.
Sending competitors requires more than willing students, though, Mrs. Rutland said. It takes teachers, administrators, coordinators, parents and a lot of time to get ready for UIL events.
“It builds excitement,” she said. “[Students] like the competing part of it. Then it also builds that higher-level thinking.”
Jami Keele, assistant principal at Kline Whitis and the elementary coordinator for District 19-4A, said the teamwork behind the Lampasas students has been exceptional.
“We have a great team, and so it was very manageable,” she said. “When you work with great people, it’s smooth.”
At Hanna Springs, the students also are working well with staff to form a competitive UIL team.
“There’s two ways we do it,” Mrs. Randolph said. “We talk to classroom teachers and have them say, ‘Hey, you might want to talk to this child.’ All the campuses, something Mrs. Melton and I designed is we have something called Time for UIL that goes home to parents. They get to look at the events and talk to their student and have them sign up.”
BENEFITS OF COMPETING
Competition gives students a chance to find themselves in a subject they enjoy, expand their knowledge and gain valuable lessons along the way, Mrs. Randolph said.
“The education it brings: learning how to fight with adversity -- especially with subjective events where a judge may not see things as you do -- it teaches them that,” she said. “In the classroom, it helps expand their knowledge in the realm that they’re really good at.
“If they’re in a science contest, it’s going to build that science knowledge where if they want to be a doctor, a vet, they can concentrate on those areas,” Mrs. Randolph said.
The result is a student who participates in more academic stimulation, Mrs. Keele said.
“It’s a chance to see a picture of a well-rounded student, just a whole other side of them that they’re able to compete with – their strengths,” the assistant principal said.
UIL events also offer a chance to make friends with those competitors they meet.
“The biggest thing to me is it gives kids a sense of belonging to another group, where some kids this may be the biggest place where they find friends outside their school district,” Mrs. Randolph said. “They have similar interests. You’d be amazed at how many kids compete against each other are best friends through emails, chat rooms because they have common interests. There’s somebody else out there that loves the same things they do.”
The league also opens up scholarship opportunities to students with academic prowess – all because they took that initial leap to compete, Mrs. Randolph said.
“I know three kids are getting to go to Harvard because of the UIL speech [experience] … Really, Lampasas kids going to compete at Harvard,” she said.
If it appears the Hanna Springs coordinator is all-in on UIL, it’s because her family boasts three generations of experience. Mrs. Randolph’s mother, Margaret Martin, taught students for UIL competition. And Mrs. Randolph’s daughter, Shelby, is the UIL coordinator at Lampasas High School and a former competitor herself.
ELEMENTARY ONLY THE START
Lampasas Middle School and Lampasas High School also have competitive academic teams, thanks to development at the elementary level, LHS UIL Coordinator Shelby Randolph said.
“It’s kind of cool that it’s a team effort,” Ms. Randolph said. “We have AP and Pre-AP level classes to assess in all these different areas … At the same time, we don’t have 10 National Merit Scholars to try and pick from.”
Finding interested students is a multistep process, she said. Sometimes, a student is interested in a subject and signs up. Others are recommended by teachers and parents.
“For me, specifically because I’m our speech coach, I don’t pick all the teams for everything – other coaches do that,” Ms. Randolph said. “Typically, what we look for are students that are hard-working and come to practice and go to invitational meets -- the students that are choosing to get better. Then we also look at their scores and ranks. How are they doing?”
Ms. Randolph said LHS students can compete at a high level beyond district competitions.
“I’m really good friends with the Salado UIL coordinator, and I definitely think we all know what our strong suits are in the district,” she said. “That’s one of the things we all work on with our teams; we try to stay strong in those areas and build up what we’re not strong in.”
Though the high school has its rivals – like Salado and Liberty Hill – Lampasas often scores in the top tier.
“I believe our district is one of the tougher ones to compete in,” Ms. Randolph added.
At the high school level, a large amount of work is required of students who pursue the academic competitions. There are events where students can compete nearly every weekend if they wish to, the coordinator said.
“We don’t make it mandatory where you have to go to all of them,” Ms. Randolph said. “Kids can sign up for when they want to go. I think it’s enjoyable, and we try to make it fun. We take games and stuff so they’re not just sitting and taking tests.”
PERFORMING AT HIGH LEVELS
Lampasas Middle School has taken first place or runner-up honors at the District 25-4A Academic Meet for five straight years.
Lampasas High School fielded 385 points at the District 19-4A spring UIL competition last year, tying for second place with Liberty Hill High School. Salado High School finished on top.
The LHS journalism team regularly takes first place in its events, under the direction of teacher Beth Franklin.
During the 2016-2017 competition year, The Badger yearbook earned high-enough marks to be nominated for a Star Award, which only goes to the top 10 percent of yearbooks in the state.
The speech and debate team at the high school is another group of students that routinely advances in competition. It is guided by Judith Ann McGhee and Ms. Randolph.
All those interviewed say Lampasas is committed to continuing its pursuit of UIL academic excellence.
“UIL is encouraged here, it’s expected here,” Mrs. Keele said. “It shows an importance on academics, and it also puts a fun competition on academics. It’s a healthy way for kids to compete academically.”