Six representatives from the 22-strong team attended the Tennessee High School Press Association Awards recently. Broadcasting teacher Jon Souders entered his students into three categories. They placed in four.
“There are some schools who have been doing this for 20 or 30 years. For us to be catching up to them is a huge testament to our students and their willingness to try new stuff and do new things,” Souders said.
“Based on a couple of the emails I received after the competition, we kind of shook things up this year in Nashville.”
The students took home first place in Best Overall Newscast, third place in Best Overall Television Station, honorable mention for Best Feature Story and an honorable mention in the Best Lip-Dub category.
The Best Overall Television Station award came as a shock as Cleveland High currently only operates a news broadcast.
Jessica Stone said the award caught everyone off guard. When Cleveland’s name was called, everyone looked confused.
Stone added, “We were not expecting the television award at all.”
Kyle Smith and Kendall Hamilton said hundreds of other students were in attendance at the awards ceremony.
And, they said, it felt great to be one of the schools taking home an award.
“It felt good,” Smith said. “For me personally, I have never gotten an award like that before.”
Hamilton added, “You could tell most all of the schools ... were private schools. They had a lot of funds, and you can tell that is their life. It was really cool to be one of those people.”
The awards announcer continued to call the recipients to the front. With each new category, the amount of baffled looks thrown at Souders from his students increased.
“We could have won that,” they told him repeatedly.
He told them they would work on it for next year.
“I am excited because they are excited about it,” Souders said. “It is one thing to get the appreciation from your parents and your community, but to be seen on a statewide scale like that, where they are seen by other high schools— I think that kind of got them fired up.”
Hamilton, Stone and Smith said a portion of the students’ success might stem from the team’s close bond.
They described their collective group as a sort of family.
“We have to be able to, for lack of a better term, yell at each other if something goes wrong,” Hamilton laughed. “We have to be there for one another.”
Added Smith, “At the end of the day, we are still a family. It all works out. We get stuff done, and it looks good.”
Souders said he has noticed how the students work off one another.
The driving thought is how the news services can become better. A lot of the new graphics, techniques and news features come from the students’ brainstorming.
It turns out that was Souder’s intention from the beginning.
“I don’t want it to be dependent on me,” he said. “It is their show. It is not my show. It is whatever they want to do. Basically, I am here to steer it in one general direction. At this point, they don’t need me, which is great because it is only halfway through the semester, and it usually takes longer.”
The students are excited about returning to the Tennessee High School Press Association Awards next year. In the meantime, they are focused on making the broadcast the best possible.
Hamilton said she would like to see more live guests on the show.
Smith added, “We want to make people actually want to watch it like it is an actual show.”
Souders encourages his students to always think about what can be done differently.
“Everyday for us we are constantly trying to improve,” Souders said. “We have never gotten to the point in seven years of doing this that [we’ve thought], ‘All right. We’ve arrived. We are done.’”
Souders continued, “And I think that is what really has been driving us. It is always, ‘What can we do better?’”