Hundreds of students from several Central Texas school districts gathered Friday to take part in an annual leadership conference put on by the Ellison High School Leadership Academy.

About 450 students in grades eight through 12 from the Killeen, Salado, Temple, Lampasas, Florence and Copperas Cove school districts attended the club’s 10th annual Brandon Antal/Edward Huncherick Youth Leadership Conference at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.

Students were divided into groups and rotated among a number of guided games and activities designed to encourage teamwork and teach them about the qualities of good leadership, said Margarita Villarreal, a senior class officer for the Ellison leadership academy.

“They are interacting with each other, and having fun,” she said. “But they’re also learning about teamwork, organization, communication, self-esteem and other leadership traits.”

Some of the activities included games such as the “spaghetti race,” where two students worked together to transport a can of soda using two uncooked noodles, and “mine field” where students guided their blindfolded teammates through a maze without touching any “mines.”

“It’s been pretty fun,” said Berenice Ramirez, a sophomore at Florence High School. “You get to meet a lot of interesting people and learn how to be a better leader.”

It wasn’t just the attending students who were learning at the conference either. Members of Ellison’s Leadership Academy were tasked with planning, organizing and running the conference.

“We are learning just like they are,” said Ellison junior Stephanie Jackson. Jackson was one of the conference’s “process leaders,” and was responsible for working with a group of students as they participated in the activities, encouraging them to work as a team.

“Your job is to help them get comfortable with one another, and to get everyone to work together,” Jackson said. “When you’re a process leader, you are learning how to lead and direct others.”

Edward Huncherick, one of two students who started the conference as a senior project 10 years ago, was one of the event’s guest speakers. Huncherick, a 2004 Ellison graduate, said he was surprised and happy to see the conference grow.

“When we first started this, there were only 40 or 50 kids,” Huncherick said. “To see that grow so quickly is just mind-blowing.”

Huncherick also praised the leadership academy, saying the organization taught him lessons that continue to help him.

“It taught me about having integrity, and having a sense of responsibility,” he said. “I also learned that it’s important to be motivated and have a passion to achieve your goals.”

Contact Chris McGuinness at or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.

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