Students from Hugoton High School work to complete an art project during the Extreme Challenge two years ago.
‘Each year it gets better’
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
Students in Liberal grow up with the knowledge that Seward County Community College/Area Technical School is right across town. To high school students from the smaller towns that dot Southwest Kansas and the Oklahoma Panhandle, a trip to SCCC/ATS is a first step toward the big time.
Hundreds of high schoolers will do just that Wednesday morning, when they arrive on campus for the ninth annual Extreme Challenge. The ever-growing event drew more than 500 teens last year, with attendees traveling from Texas, Oklahoma, Garden City, and most of the smaller school districts in between.
The event offers academic competition in an array of disciplines: art, agriculture, business, marketing/management, computer information systems, journalism, drama, music, physical education, math and science, cosmetology, criminal justice, English and trade/industrial education.
An hour west of Liberal, sponsors and students at Elkhart High School said anticipation for Wednesday’s competition had them on pins and needles.
“To be honest with you, I’m a very competitive person,” said Terri Houtz, the computer teacher who accompanies the school’s team. “I want my kids to do well. The first year, it was a joke: ‘You lose, you walk home.’”
This year, as the four-year champions who will bring the traveling trophy back to Liberal, the Elkhart students aren’t laughing.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” Houtz said. “There’s going to be phenomenal competition there, from the large and small schools.”
Participating students compete for the top three places in each category, and schools accumulate a point total for the scores of all contestants. Individual prizes are awarded, and one school earns the title of first place overall. In that respect, the Extreme Challenge resembles a track meet.
Houtz said she relishes the chance to encourage academic and intellectual competition in her students. Though EHS took a sign-up approach the first year it participated, the enthusiasm grew to such levels that Houtz began asking individual teachers to select students in each subject area.
“We went to each teacher and said, ‘I want your top kids,’” Houtz said. “It’s something even the freshmen get excited about now.”
Students at EHS prep for the competition outside of class. Teachers provide review sessions. Houtz said the experience offers value on many levels.
“I really like it because SCCC/ATS is an outstanding college, and this gives the kids a chance to see the college life from a level that’s different than just taking a tour,” she said. “They’re in the classrooms, they’re meeting college instructors, and that’s really valuable.”
The competition also preps students for the college admission process. Each event takes place within a limited time frame, so participants must think on their feet and produce a finished entry under pressure. Houtz said it’s a great exercise for students who will take college entrance exams over the summer.
Whether her students take the traveling trophy back to Eklhart or not, Houtz said they will all ride the bus once they’ve finished the day’s competition.
“I tell my kids: you may not have won substate basketball, but you’re smart kids,” Houtz said. “I tell them, over and over, ‘We’re winners.’”