Originally Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2013, 9:55 pm
Last Updated: Feb. 18, 2013, 1:49 pm

Moline repeats as state acting champs for second year in a row

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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com

The Illinois State Champions for their "Performance in the Round" this past weekend in Peoria are Moline High School students (front row, from left) Jennie White, Sadie Buckles, Micah SantAmor Bernas, Christian Frieden, Alejandro Raya, (back row, from left) Matthew Hayes, Taylor Romeo, Clare Van Echaute, Josef Pautsch, Peter Condit, and JJ Schrick.

Moline High School's Encore! speech/acting team lived up to its name this past weekend, earning the state championship in the "Performance in the Round" category for the second year in a row.

Out of 18 high schools competing at the Peoria Civic Center, Encore earned first place in the Illinois High School Association state finals for its 15-minute performance "Starcatcher," an adaptation of the Broadway play "Peter and the Starcatcher," by Moline head coach Christopher Thomas.

"The really cool thing about this year, we got straight 1's (the highest possible score) from all five judges," Mr. Thomas said on Sunday.

Students audition to get into Encore, "dedicating themselves to competing in speech, enhancing their performing abilities and leadership skills as well," Mr. Thomas said.

Four of the 11 PIR students also participated in last year's first-place team which performed "The Legacy Quilt," an adaptation of the musical "Quilters." This year's entry also featured instrumental music, which helped the team's chances at the state competition, Mr. Thomas said.

"It makes it unique, but offers a way to tell the story -- makes moments of the story more significant and heightens that scene," he said. "It allows you to accomplish a lot in a short period of time.

"This activity in IHSA is one of the best activities for high schools to participate in, hands down," Mr. Thomas said. "It teaches them (students) about competition, sportsmanship, professionalism and what a majority of America is afraid to do -- get up in front of other people who judge you: performing it, practicing it, getting feedback, modeling their behavior after it.

"They're learning about their own sense of decorum and identity," he said. "The skills that students gain from this activity are skills that they will use the rest of their life."

What he said he also likes about Encore is that the group of about 30 students becomes a true family.

"They're up at the crack of dawn on Saturdays to compete together; there are lots of bus trips," Mr. Thomas said. "This year, I was blown away by the number of alumni and parents who came to the Civic Center in Peoria just on the chance that they might make finals."

In the two-day competition, students had to pass a preliminary round to reach the finals, said Mr. Thomas, a Moline English/drama teacher. In 2011, Mr. Thomas and the team earned second in state for his original play, based on a Pulitzer-winning feature about violinist Joshua Bell playing for tips in a subway station.

Kids who not in the PIR category participate in other individual speech categories. Moline students making it to state finals this year were Travis Meier in original comedy and Raksha Madhavan in original oratory, Mr. Thomas said.

The Encore students will perform at 7:40 p.m. Friday in the high school cafeteria at "Dessert Theatre." For a $5 donation, guests can have dessert, coffee or juice and see a selection of sectional and state performers.

"Those who at least come and experience what these students are offering all leave not only impressed, but they leave with sense of appreciation for what these students do," Mr. Thomas said.