Vela Middle School students break new ground

HARLINGN — “It felt great.”

That’s how Christopher Ringheanu described his reaction upon learning he and his fellow Vela Middle School students had won the UIL District Tournament.

“When we heard the news we were all really excited,” said Christopher, 14, an eighth grader who competed in the event Saturday.

“After so many years of not winning and then winning it this year, it just felt really special,” he said. “We practiced every day and helped each other out, and we have great coaches.”

This was, in fact, the first time Vela Middle School has won the UIL District Championship for academics and public speaking. Coakley Middle School held that title for 42 years before Saturday’s tournament in Los Fresnos when Vela won the day. The event included 11 middle schools from Harlingen, San Benito and Los Fresnos, said Lynn Villalobos, Vela Middle School UIL coordinator.

Each school had its own team, and a total of 65 Vela students competed in both academics and public speaking.

“We’re ecstatic,” Villalobos said. “We’re on cloud nine right now. Our students have done so well throughout the year.”

They have, indeed, been practicing and competing throughout this school year and it’s paid off, said Alejandra Posada, 12, a seventh grader who competed in poetry and solo acting.

“We practiced every day,” she said. “Doing the high school tournaments that just helped us be even more prepared.”

The students participated in local meets and even in contests organized by the Texas Forensics Association, said Ivette Connell, speech, drama and debate coach. At TFA, the middle school students competed against high school students and performed very well.

“These kids, they practiced every day until 6 p.m.,” Connell said. “This was probably their 10th tournament of the year. One of the reasons they’re doing so well is because they are going to all of these tournaments.”

Alejandra seemed to feel all the long hours of practice were well worth it.

“I’m very glad that I did well,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting to get first, but I was excited after we found out the results.”

While many students presented a comical piece in the solo acting event, Alejandra gave a dramatic performance called “Choosing Hope” about a school shooting.

“I guess mine was a heavier piece and a lot of the judges liked that,” she said.

What else might have enabled her to stand out?

“You could tell that some of the other students hadn’t gotten as much experience as I had,” she said.

Some students, like Vela student Andrea Abundiz, participated in both academics and public speaking.

“I did dictionary skills,” she said. “In speaking I did impromptu speaking and duet. I personally enjoyed academics more because I can do it on my own. When you’re speaking you do it in front of somebody.”

The students at Vela Middle School, in finding their own voice, have given their school a new place on the map. They’ve taken the district title for the first time in the school’s history.