Anticipation. Senior Lilian Roberts and junior Charlie Kephart wait excitedly for the PSPA state competition to begin. Both Roberts and Kephart are editors for the Mountain Echi.
Anticipation. Senior Lilian Roberts and junior Charlie Kephart wait excitedly for the PSPA state competition to begin. Both Roberts and Kephart are editors for the Mountain Echi.
Addisen McDonald

A story to tell: Seven publication staffers participate in the PSPA State competition.

“The foundations of journalism don’t change…just how you convey it.” – Sarah Higgins
Travel time. Mountain Echo editors Lilian Roberts, Charlie Kephart, Emmalee Martyak, Jaidyn Palladini, Madison Aboud and Cider Ayala pose for a photo with their adviser Wanda Vanish, before leaving for Penn State. (Lilian Roberts)

On April 3, members of the Mountain Echo and Horseshoe Yearbook staffs traveled Penn State University for the Pennsylvania Scholastic Press Association state competition hosted by the Donald P. Bellisario College in the Hetzel Union Building-Robeson Center (HUB.) Seven students competed in various categories. 

Welcome. A board displays a welcome to PSPA (Pennsylvania Scholastic Press Association) competitors and non competitors as they start their day, April 3. (Madison Aboud)

The day began with a press conference with Penn State Assistant Athletic Director Sarah Higgins. During the conference, students had the opportunity to ask questions and Higgins would offer advice and information in return. 

“Storytelling can take on a number of different forms,” Higgins said. “The foundations of journalism don’t change… just how you convey it.” 

Seven Mountain Echo and Horseshoe members participated in the state competition. 

“The foundations of journalism don’t change… just how you convey it.”

— Sarah Higgins

Leading up to the competition, the staffers felt a mix of emotions. Senior Jaidyn Palladini, who participated in the News category and freshman Emmalee Martyak, who participated in the Editorial category, both felt nervous prior to the competition. 

“I feel nervous as I do for anything, but I’m feeling really confident,” Palladini said. “It’s a bit stressful knowing that our speaker is an Assistant Athletic Director and my category is News, but I’m feeling prepared with questions and information that is vital to whatever angle I am writing. Knowing that it’s senior year, it’s bittersweet and I’m excited. I’ve taken a big step in writing this year, and I’m hoping everything goes good no matter how I do.” 

“I’m nervous, but also excited. I honestly don’t really know what to expect, and that’s really nerve wracking, but I’m glad I get to spend time with friends and have a new experience,” Martyak said. 

Seniors Lilian Roberts and Makenzie Closson participated in the Blog category and both have good feelings about their blogs they will turn in by April 16. 

“I think it’s going to be just fine,” Closson said. “The blog will be challenging because I don’t really write in this style in the prompt I was given.” 

Focused in. Senior Makenzie Closson doodles while waiting for the activities of the day to begin. (Rylie Keagy )

“I don’t feel super nervous because I didn’t really compete today,” Roberts said.“I’m just trying to make today as fun as I can so my blog is good. It’s not really my thing to blog about my day-to-day life, so I’m hoping to incorporate my usual style into this prompt and make it more personal. I hope I do well seeing as it is my final year of competing, but I’m not worrying about stressing out, I’d rather have a fun day.” 

Senior Olivia McMinn felt confident going into her competition in Yearbook Sports Writing. 

“I’m feeling pretty good,” McMinn said. “It’s something I am not very familiar with, but I’m confident in my writing skills and my yearbook knowledge. I’m eager to compete in something that’s new and exciting, especially here at Penn State College of Communications.” 

Junior Cider Ayala was relaxed and excited leading up to the competition for Literature Magazine Poetry. 

“I’m more confident because I get to compete at States this year and not just regions,” Ayala said. “Honestly, right now, I’m just chilling.” 

Sophomore Mattie Baker felt mixed emotions leading up to her competition in Literary Artwork. 

“I mostly feel excited, though that could just be because we found a Starbucks,” Baker said. “I’m also excited to see what my prompt will be because they haven’t told me yet. I’ll admit I’m a little nervous because the competition will be much harder here, but I’ve just been reminding myself that this is an opportunity to push my abilities and hopefully do better than the first competition.” 

The seven students who participated in the journalistic competition aren’t the only ones who spent the day on campus. Four other students, juniors Charlie Kephart, Addisen McDonald and Rylie Keagy and sophomore Madison Aboud also went to the PSPA state competition. 

“From a non-competing standpoint, I like being here in this competition atmosphere,” McDonald said. “I really like the breakfast they gave us in the morning. It was a nice introduction to the competition. I look forward to meeting people from other staffs.”

“It’s nice to be on the non-competing side because I’m so used to the schedule of competing,” Keagy said.“It’s cool to experience other parts of these conventions.” 

After the competition, Palladini felt good about what she had written. 

“After writing in the competition, I feel very good about it,” Palladini said. “Although I was very much over the word count, I did my best and feel as though it’s great. The one monitor in the room kept telling us to stop counting the words and that the judges don’t really count the words, they look at the quality of the work. I believe having more gives me a better chance of placing higher overall. My angle was on returning vaulted logos and how social media is still working consistently to put word out there and what they are going to do for the future, events coming up soon, etc… I hope all goes well.” 

During the day, students also participated in roundtable discussions with current Penn State students. They discussed possible opportunities for their journalism careers following high school. Students were able to ask general questions they had about the transition to college. 

Helping hands. Penn State students with connections to journalism and communications introduce themselves before beginning round tables. (Madison Aboud )

Penn State senior Rachel Padnis gave students at her roundtable discussion advice for entering into college. 

“It’s all about what you want to do,” Padnis said. “When you get there, get involved.” 

Following the roundtables, a Keynote speech was delivered by the Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, Ashlie Crosson. 

“It’s all about what you want to do. When you get there, get involved.”

— Rachel Padnis

During her speech she placed a focus on learning from mistakes and not taking on too much at once. As she concluded her speech, she said, “Let yourself do things you genuinely love.” 

At the end of the day, awards were given out. Student Journalist of the Year was announced. 

Senior Ben Shapiro from Conestoga High School, won the award for Student Journalist of the Year. Shapiro is the Editor in Chief at his newspaper, The Scope. 

“[To win the award] it means so much,” Shapiro said. “I feel like I’ve poured every single second of the past four years into the paper, and I’m honored to have won. It feels great to have my work acknowledged at a state level.” 

Aside from the Student Journalist award, the state winners of the Pennsylvania Scholastic Press Association competitions were also announced. 

From Altoona, there was one winner. McMinn won Yearbook Sports Writing.  

“It’s nice being recognized by PSPA. I’ve been a part of the journalism staff for a long time, so it’s nice knowing that with my skills behind me. I can feel I accomplished something,” McMinn said. 

Roberts and Closson will submit their entries within the next two weeks and look forward to learning their state rankings.  They will be competing against one another.

“I’m not nervous or feeling that I want to beat her,” Closson said. “I’m planning to write about the day and just highlight the state event to the best of my ability. We are always happy for one another to win.”

“We compete against each other all the time at dance, so it’s not a feeling that I need to beat her,” Roberts said. “It’s a bit awkward, but at the same time, the mentality has to be if it is not me winning it should be her.”

Coming home a winner. Senior Olivia McMinn poses for a photo after winning her competition category, Yearbook Sports Writing. (Rylie Keagy )

The journalists plan to extend their training working with professional photographers the remainder of the school year funded through a grant from the Altoona Area School District Foundation.

Melissa Krainer
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