Two ninth grade journalists from West Orange – Stark High School put pencil to paper and earned state medals Monday at the UIL 3A State Academic Meet at the University of Texas in Austin.

Kylie Hughes placed third at state in news writing. Alayna Jacobs placed fourth at state in headline writing. Combined, the two were able to earn third place as the WO-S Journalism team.

The two qualified for the elite state competition at the UIL Regional Meet in April.  Hughes placed first in news writing to earn a state berth in that event; while Jacobs placed third in headline writing also securing a state position.

“For both girls to place as freshmen at the regional level, is almost unbelievable. Usually the competitors who advance, even at the district level, are upperclassmen who have been competing quite regularly since their first year in high school,” Meri Elen Jacobs, WO-S Journalism instructor said.

At state, Kylie and Alayna each competed in their respective event against 11 other young journalists who represented the best in their classification. All competed for one of six places awarded.

Their UIL State journey began with academic practice meets in January. Both girls competed, with Kylie, a Journalism I student, competing in news writing, headline writing, and feature writing. She placed in at least one event, if not more, at each of the four practice meets which WO-S attended.

Jacobs, an advanced journalism student, also attended the practice meets, competing in headline and editorial writing. She placed in headline writing.

The two also utilized any extra time they had to complete practice prompts during class or on their own time. They also were able to spend an entire school day at a UIL practice retreat the day prior to District competition.

Kylie placed third in district in news writing and first in feature writing, while Alayna placed second in headline writing.

“I didn’t expect to do so well because everyone that goes is so good. But I was glad I placed,” Kylie said.

Alayna agreed.

At the regional meet, the two were unfamiliar with the abilities of their competition.

However, again they placed in the top three in their respective state event. Now they were looking forward to the immediacy of competing at State UIL May 7.

But then, three days before they were to depart for State, UIL announced that all events were postponed due to the swine flu.

Both girls were disappointed with the delay although their instructor Meri Elen said the postponement was somewhat positive in that it allowed them some time off between competitions, as well as a little more time to prepare.

Despite being freshmen, neither were intimidated by the fact that they were probably going to compete against older classman who might be more experienced in writing.

They simply focused on what they needed to do.

Alayna read past state headline writing prompts, paying attention to the story’s detail, writing headlines and then comparing her headlines to the headlines that won.

Kylie read news writing prompts, analyzing their content to identify what it most important, identifying future angles, discussing the issues with her fellow news writing classmates, and then writing her story with a focus on a strong lead.

Kylie and Alayna both carry with them more experience than their grade classification reveals.

Kylie enjoys creative writing as a hobby and writes short stories for her friends to read on her personal website.

Alayna has been attending journalism conferences with her teacher who is also her mother, and has been practicing journalistic writing for the past two years.

Both girls also were in creative writing and worked on the yearbook staff in Middle School.

On Memorial Day, they enjoyed a relaxed morning and then each spent 45 minutes of their afternoon in a classroom at The University of Texas writing and seeking medals.

The two were hoping for the best;  but neither allowed themselves to absorb the fact that qualifying for the UIL Academic State Meet has already marked them as two of the best high school journalism students in the state of Texas.

“Our region is one of, if not, the toughest in the state in UIL journalism, so for them to make it this far, says that they have the ability to win at the state level. I am just so proud of them for the hard work that they have put in to winning and I am also excited that I will have three more years with them on my journalism team and in my class,” Meri Elen said.