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Famous figures take center stage for contest





While researching her character for a school project earlier this semester, Breonna North and her mom, Ava, learned a valuable lesson.

"We saw that Jessica Tandy said to put on your character and wear it," said Breonna, a fifth-grader at Washington Elementary School in Ellis who had chosen Tandy, a stage and film actress for nearly 70 years, as her character to research.

"I told her, 'You're not Bree anymore. Every time you do this, you have to be Jessica,' " said Ava, who convinced her daughter to perform in front of people they knew at a restaurant and gas station.

The extra practice paid off.

Breonna wowed the judges at the 17th annual Hays Arts Council Famous Figures competition Friday to earn the first-place trophy.

It was the second top prize won by a student from Breonna's school in the last three years.

As is the case in other Ellis County schools, Washington teachers have their students research their characters as part of a class project, which includes writing a paper and performing in front of classmates.

Students also practice at home, performing in front of family, and even their pets.

Breonna might have trumped them all.

"I was so nervous at first when Mom had me do that," Breonna said of several impromptu performances. "But the more I did it, the easier it got."

A total of 28 finalists represented nine Ellis county schools after advancing out of their school competitions.

A scoring system with points from three different judges is used to determine the winners. Contestants with the top scores, plus ties, receive trophies.

Winners from this year's competition, which was viewed by many to be a close race, represented five schools.

And the audience was able to watch in comfort -- in the cushy seats of air-conditioned Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center at Fort Hays State University.

In the past, the county finals of the event had been at 12th Street Auditorium, which is not air-conditioned.

"I think there was more competition than ever before," said Amy Kuppetz, Breonna's teacher at Washington who has taught there for 18 years. "I had seven different (contestants) picked that I thought could have been first. And having it at Beach/Schmidt was amazing."

"They just keep getting better and better every year," agreed Brenda Meder, executive director of the Hays Arts Council.

Second place went to Sage Goering from Wilson Elementary School in Hays, who played Rosalind Franklin, a British female scientist who made significant contributions to the understanding of DNA and several viruses.

Taking home the third-place trophy was Ashlyn Luetters from Hays' Lincoln Elementary, who played American activist Alice Paul, who fought for women's suffrage.

Hays' Roosevelt Elementary was the only school to win two trophies. Maddie Lohmeyer (singer/writer and Mary Poppins star Julie Andrews) placed fourth. Schoolmate Taylor Weidenhaft (world champion barrel racer Charmayne James) tied for fifth with Landon Dinkel (British comedian, actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin) from Holy Family Elementary in Hays.

All 28 participants received a medal as an Ellis County finalist.

"They are all winners," Meder said. "They had to work really hard to get here."