Martins Mill sweeps Class A state academic
championship; gains more points than all classes
Mabank resident takes state Editorial Writing
By Terry Britt
Monitor Staff Writer
MARTINS MILL– For its growing book of accomplishments, Martins
Mill High School’s University Interscholastic League (UIL)
academics program may have just added its biggest chapter yet.
The school clinched the Class A team championship May 5-7, the
first of Van Zandt County’s seven high schools to reach that
Even more awe-inspiring are some of the individual performances
and the accompanying stories. They include a dynamic
freshman-senior duo in poetry interpretation, one student who
placed in three different events and single-handedly accounted
for 42 of the school’s points, and a first-ever state
championship in journalism — even though no journalism course is
offered at the school.
Perhaps the biggest story-within-a-story centers on a young lady
who was not even sure she wanted to be at Martins Mill before
the school year began.
Less than nine months after opting to transfer from Mabank ISD,
Martins Mill freshman Autumn Osborne is no longer just the new
girl at school. She is the Class A state champion and Tops In
Texas (best of all five classification levels) in editorial
In a nutshell, it was a remarkable three days in Austin for
Osborne and her Martins Mill teammates.
“I was thrilled when they started announcing results for
editorial writing and I realized I had won the state
championship,” Osborne said. “It was so completely unexpected.
“But then to win the Tops in Texas award, you can’t even imagine
what that feeling was like,” she added.
Osborne transferred to Martins Mill at the start of the school
year after her mother, Marie Osborne, was hired to teach
“It was not an easy decision, whether to stay at Mabank or come
to Martins Mill so I could be with her. It was such a big
transition,” Autumn said.
As big a change as switching schools was for her, coming into
the Martins Mill UIL Academics program turned out to be even
more of a challenge.
“I was not prepared for how rigorous UIL was here,” Osborne
said. “In my first practice session, I thought I did well with
the paper I turned in, and instead I was told it was not
anywhere near the structural format and not as precise as it
needed to be.
“It was kind of a slap to the face, that realization that
everything was not right with my work,” she added.
If it was a rude awakening for Osborne, it had the desired
Sticking with the program, Osborne worked throughout the school
year on conciseness and structure in her editorial writing.
Like so many of the UIL Academics participants at Martins Mill,
Osborne also had that desire to win at spring meets.
About the editorial writing event, she said, “I love the
competition itself, and the fact that you get to argue your
point about a subject in a professional way.
“Another way it has helped me is I now can see both sides of a
story and decide for myself which side makes more sense or seems
more valid,” Osborne said.
That is what the event is built upon. Editorial writing
contestants are given a paper detailing arguments for both sides
of a particular issue. They are then given a 45-minute period to
write an editorial supporting one side of the issue, using the
points presented as well as any additional ones they can offer.
Osborne’s spectacular achievement at state complimented three
other students placing in journalism events — Natalie Watts took
second in headline writing, Sarah Webster finished third in news
writing and Seth Stephens placed sixth in editorial writing.
The journalism team championship that resulted is even more
impressive from a school that lacks any journalism courses, or a
school newspaper, for that matter.
However, journalism coach and UIL Academics coordinator Meredith
Daniel said she knew the students had the potential to perform
well in Austin.
“Fortunately, as their English teacher, I get to see the quality
of their writing on a day-to-day basis,” Daniel said. “Still,
the fact that we do not have journalism courses here means these
students do everything completely outside school hours.
“They are a really dedicated group of writers who pushed each
other throughout the year,” she added.
The 139 total points for Martins Mill at the state meet says
just about everything that needs saying.
The school’s official status as Class A state champions was
merely awaiting the results of the one-act play competition.
Daniel explained that the school nearest them in the points
standings was also in the one-act play finals but could not have
gained enough points to catch Martins Mill.
The 139 points had another unofficial honor in being the most of
any classification. Better yet, the state title comes at the
expense of regional rival Lindsay, who had won eight of the last
10 Class A academic championships, the last four in a row.
“I’ve had the opportunity to coach some great students over the
years, but never a group like this. I believe this year we had
the most contestants and most state qualifiers in school
history,” Daniel said.
“Thursday night at the state meet, when we ended the day with 51
points already, I knew we had something to build on. We were
already 31 points in the lead,” she added.
That was before the meet got into the events where Martins Mill
is an annual contender, literary criticism and
The literary criticism team of Zak Tharp, Seth Stephens, Natalie
Watts and Cassie Reese ended atop the list. Daniel, though, said
initially there was cause for concern.
“The literary criticism tests are getting harder and harder
every year. Scores were down for everybody this year,” she said.
“This team was another example of competition among the teams
making everybody perform better,” Daniel continued. “It also
proves how important your fourth person on the team can be …
Cassie Reese’s score at the regional meet (used in a tiebreaker)
is why we got to state in the first place.”
The Spelling and Vocabulary team of Tamara Gamow, Megan LaFleur,
Tori Dooley and Daniel Clark gave the school its second state
championship in three years in that event.
“This was a team of real go-getters,” said event coach Terri
Sartain. “They are self-motivated students with a desire to
As an example, she noted Gamow, who finished third in the state
meet, typed and studied 10 years of previous state-level
competition words in preparation for this year’s meet.
Another bright spot for Martins Mill was poetry interpretation
competitors Emily Williams, a senior, and Donald Jackson, a
freshman. Those two finished third and fourth, respectively, at
the state meet, while Zak Tharp placed third in prose
“I’ve worked with some gifted kids before, but Emily, Donald and
Zak have been a trio like none other. In the finals room for
poetry interpretation, they all went with comedic pieces that
relied so much on timing, and I thought Emily and Donald nailed
it perfectly,” Daniel said.
If there was an absolute all-star for Martins Mill at the state
meet, though, it would have to be Seth Stephens. By the end of
the weekend, he was wearing five state medals.
“Seth went 3-for-3 placing in events at the state meet. He was
personally responsible for 42 of our total points. That is just
amazing,” said Daniel.