On February 19th and 20th, students from Yearbook and Digital Journalism competed in the annual Southwest Prairie Conference, a journalism competition in which 10 schools in Oswego East High School’s conference compete against one another in various categories of journalism, including yearbook spreads, writing reviews, creating infographics, editorial cartooning, advertising, and more. Due to the pandemic, this year’s competition took place completely virtually.
Over the course of the two-day competition, East journalists would earn 17 awards and recognitions for their work. The school brought back a first place award overall for the second year in a row.
In prior years, the students would travel to the conference school on a Saturday afternoon, and spend almost the whole day competing and waiting for the results.
Some students said competing virtually was a setback, while others said it granted them more comfort.
Some students, like senior Gabriella Haase, said they felt more at ease competing in her home. In previous years, teachers would walk around monitoring the students as they worked. For Haase, that created a sense of pressure that made competing last year more stressful.
“This year took off a little bit of stress because I was able to do my own thing as long as it was turned in at the deadline,” Haase said.
Even though Haase preferred competing remotely, she said that the competition as a whole was still enjoyable.
“It’s so much fun and it feels good to root on your other teammates in their events,” Haase said. “It’s kind of like a thrill in a way. It keeps you on your toes. It makes you question, ‘What do you think is going to happen?’ It was a really exciting experience.”
While competing remotely had its advantages, some students said they missed the irreplaceable feeling of competing with other students in the room. Junior and second time competitor Theodore Wynard said that although it was easier this year, he still preferred the in-person conference.
“That in-person aspect is very important because it gives off great vibes and really helps energize you for the competition,” Wynard said.
Senior and 2nd time competitor Isabella Mendoza also preferred competing in-person.
“When you’re surrounded by your teammates and you feel everyone’s energy and you watch people walk out of their competitions, it creates more of a team effort,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza ran into technical difficulties that hindered her work. The students were supposed to receive an email with the prompt and folder that they were required to upload their work on, but Mendoza didn’t receive her prompt in time.
“I was happy with the results from last year but this year not so much. There were a lot of issues for me just like uploading my work and getting my prompts,” Mendoza said. “I was very stressed and worried that if I didn’t turn it in on time, I’d get disqualified.”
The students were given an hour and a half to respond to the prompt and turn it into the correct location. The issue of time extended to other students, like senior Rahi Patel who competed for the 2nd time.
This year Patel chose to compete because she enjoyed last year’s competition and wanted to try something new.
“The biggest problem for me — especially this year — was keeping track of the time which is why I wasn’t able to completely perfect my infographic I made,” Patel said. “I wasn’t too happy with the results because for the video news I thought I did better than expected, but for the infographic I did not finish in time.”
Patel competed for video news and infographics and placed 5th for video news and did not place for infographics.
Although the virtual competition may have been more flexible, there was the lack of tension that comes with competing in a room full of people.
Yearbook Journalism sponsor Colleen Calvey, the school’s longtime sponsor of the program, ensured that competitors received their prompts during the virtual competition.
“Competing in person adds something to the level of competition when you are sitting in a room [with] the people you’re competing against,” Calvey said. “I think in order for it to be a truly fair competition, it should be a competition that takes place in person.”
First year Yearbook Journalism senior Yadira Nevarez competed at the SPC for the first time.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” Nevarez asked in the weeks leading up to the event. “So I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll just give it a try.’ And then when I looked over the old prompts, I thought they were kind of fun.”
Nevarez originally only signed up for editorial cartooning but ended up competing for editorial writing as well. She placed 2nd in both categories.
“I liked my writing. I was really proud of it, but I wasn’t expecting to place 2nd because it was my first year of doing it,” Nevarez said.
Other students, like Haase, competed for the second time. Haase competed in photography last year but unfortunately didn’t place.
“I wanted to come back this year and work really hard,” Haase said. “I really enjoyed the whole competition process last year, and it just kind of convinced me to do it this year.”
Instead of photography, Haase competed in infographics this year and placed 3rd.
“I feel like my hard work really paid off. Comparing it to last year, I’m really proud of it,” Haase said.
Despite the technological issues, the Yearbook Journalism team ended up bringing home several high-ranking awards, crowning them repeat conference champions. Many students who had never competed before placed highly, and 2nd time competitor students said they still enjoyed the experience.
Seniors who have competed for their last time this year, such as Mendoza, encouraged others to set aside doubts and take part in the SPC.
“A lot of times students are put into competitions that they’re not really used to. I say to just give it your best effort,” Mendoza said. “We’ve had people who have competed in things they knew nothing about, and placed first or second. That’s because of the effort you put into it.”
Individual awards and conference honors were won by the following students
Students identified with an asterisk * are student journalists from the Digital Journalism program
Photo Story Telling: Emily Mauro, 4th Place
Video News: (team event) Reegan Johnson & Leah Finin, 4th Place and Madison Webster & Rahi Patel, 5th Place
Infographics: Gabriella Haase, 3rd Place
Advertising: Danielle Arenas, 1st Place
Yearbook Theme Development: (team event) Libby Bonthala & Kylie Eggert, 2nd Place
Sports Writing: Austin Johnson, 6th Place
Yearbook Copy Writing: Teddy Wynard, 2nd Place
Feature Writing: Alexander Prince*, 1st Place and Aryav Bothra*, 2nd Place
Yearbook Layout Double Page Spread: Leah Finin, 2nd Place and Isabella Mendoza, 6th Place
Editorial Writing: Elizabeth Dyer*, 1st Place and Yadira Nevarez, 2nd Place
Editorial Cartooning: Liam Fitzpatrick*, 1st Place and Yadira Nevarez, 2nd Place
Headline Writing: Elizabeth Dyer*, 3rd Place
Mariel Herrera is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl