By Sean Wardwell
Killeen Daily Herald
Large-scale University Interscholastic League competitions attracted several hundred middle school academics Saturday.
"This process started last year. We had five schools that participated in UIL. This year we expanded, and we're in the neighborhood of 600 kids participating in 13 different contests," said Robert Burns, UIL academic coordinator for the Killeen Independent School District.
Representing the district's 11 middle schools, students participated in number sense, math, science, oral reading, chess, art and maps/graphing contests at Ellison High School.
Created in 1910 at the University of Texas, UIL exists to provide educational extracurricular academic, athletic and music contests, according to the UIL website.
Ellison's cafeteria was filled with students holding signs representing their campuses and looking for bragging rights.
"It actually gives a chance to showcase kids who are academically inclined," said Marie Icmat, campus instructional specialist and UIL coordinator at Nolan Middle School. "Our kids are really excited, so just seeing them get to compete with all 11 middle schools is great."
CJ Fuertes, a 13-year-old student at Union Grove Middle School, participated in the math competition.
"I'm good at math. I placed first," she said, adding she also enjoys meeting people and earning accolades for her school.
Mikaela Lindsey, 13, competed for Union Grove in oral reading. "It's been lots of fun. I like to perform, so it's just fun being in front of the judges and making them laugh," she said. "It gets people together. It's just fun to compete against other people and learn what their school is like."
UIL is not a club any student can simply join, but Icmat said teachers always are looking for potential recruits.
"Right now, it's through recruitment by a teacher," she said. "A teacher sees a student performing in their classes and they encourage them to volunteer or invite them."
Burns said he hopes this year is only the first of many large-scale competitions. "I think it's a great event for the kids," he said. "It opens avenues for some kids who may not participate in other events. That's always a plus."
Contact Sean Wardwell at email@example.com or (254) 501-7552. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcity.