UIL academic competition growing

Posted 5/5/22

There are two placards in Julie Chappa’s math classroom. One reads, “You are here on the edge of a moment.” The second challenges, “You can change the world if you can change your mind.”  

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UIL academic competition growing


There are two placards in Julie Chappa’s math classroom. One reads, “You are here on the edge of a moment.” The second challenges, “You can change the world if you can change your mind.”  

The quotes are taken from two musicals: “Come From Away” which is based on the long layover experienced by travelers in Canada on the morning of 9-11 and the relationships which endured from that day; while the second comes from the musical “Kinky Boots.” 

Although both adages stem from theater, they could not be better placed than in the classroom of Mineola’s academic competition coordinator. 

Chappa coordinates the participation of Mineola High School students in the robust collection of University Scholastic League (UIL) academic competition. 

For those not directly associated with UIL academics, the scope of the program is stunning. Over the past 40 years, the competition has grown from a handful of traditional events to over 30. 

Generally speaking, academic competition events are divided into five major groups: Mathematics (accounting, calculator applications, computer application, computer science, number sense and robotics), Writing (essay writing, editing, editorial writing, feature writing, headline writing, journalism, historical essay writing, ready writing, and spelling and vocabulary), public speaking (cross examination debate, informative speaking, Lincoln Douglas debate, literary criticism, persuasive speaking, poetry interpretation, prose interpretation and speech), theater (digital animation, traditional animation, film narrative, film documentary and theatrical design), and social sciences (congress, current issues, social studies and science). 

One-act play is considered one of the 36 competitive academic events, but due to the scope of producing one-act plays, it is often treated as a separate undertaking. 

Wood County area schools offer many of the above individual competitions. While some specific competitive events have become a traditional part of a school’s extracurricular kitbag, each requires both on-staff expertise and the availability of a teacher to lead the event. 

The effect of academic competition can be life-long. Chappa, a Hawkins High School graduate, fondly recounts the impact of her academic coordinator, Joann Minshew. Chappa participated in literary criticism competition while under Minshew’s tutelage. “She was an amazing person and teacher,”Chappa noted.

Chappa has come full circle. She earned degrees in mathematics from North Texas State and instruction and curriculum from UT Tyler. Following teaching stints in Louisiana, Dallas and Tyler, she returned to Hawkins and took up the duties once performed by Minshew. 

After a decade of leading the competitions in Hawkins, Chappa joined Mineola schools to fill the need for a dual-credit math teacher. This year those duties expanded to include academic competition coordination.

Chappa related that academic coaches and coordinators receive a small stipend as recompense for their time in support of UIL events. As anyone involved in coaching can attest, time investments usually far outweigh the value of stipends. 

What motivates academic coaches, just as athletic coaches, is the spark in young peoples’ eyes.

“It is about having a chance to compete,” Chappa explained, “…to excel at having digested something in advance and applying it.”

The range of competition is quite astounding. Chappa detailed how in literary criticism a reading list is released at the end of the school year as the required reading for the next year’s competition. The reading list is a novel, a play and some poetry. 

At the other end of the spectrum is the event number sense. This event consists of an 80-question math test which students have only 10 minutes to complete. When considering the challenge, it is obvious that the event is properly named.   

Chappa acknowledged that most of the academic competitions are of a “challenging to difficult” academic level. She advised that all UIL academic events also serve learning objectives established by the state. 

Sharing Chappa’s passion for academic competition is Alba-Golden coordinator, Dana Wade. Wade highlighted two effects of UIL academics which keep her motivated.

“Academics competition can unlock learning for youngsters. It helps kids understand the value of learning and its relationship to outcomes,” she said.

She related how one student, coming out of a competitive test told her excitedly, “Hey, we can DO this!”

Wade admitted that the UIL contests build all types of positive relationships – between students, among teammates, with sponsors and academic coaches, and with students from other schools.

“It truly opens the horizon for a lot of young people,” stated Wade.

Success at academic competition can have great effect when pursuing admission (and scholarships), especially to Texas colleges. Chappa reported that UIL academic success is highly valued by admission boards at Texas universities. 

As with many secondary school programs, success often begins in elementary school. While secondary school competition occurs in the spring, the elementary school academic competition is a fall sport. It is alive and well in Wood County.

Some subjects at the elementary level are the same, while others are more-geared toward younger students. Elementary school contests include events such as dictionary skills, music memory, art memory, and a great event called maps, graphs and charts.

For Academic Coordinators Chappa and Wade as well as Quitman High School Coordinator Shelley Chance, the UIL academic program is life’s work. Wade offered, “After all,” she said, “learning, retaining and applying information is one of the best things we can offer young people.”