From Tuesday, November 2nd, through Thursday, November 4th, members of the Avonews participated in the Pennsylvania School ​Press Association’s regional journalism competition. PSPA’s mission is to promote excellence and responsibility in scholastic journalism through developing the journalism skills of all the students involved. This year’s participants from The Avonews were senior Niomi Ellis along with juniors Zoe Trexel, Laurel Purcell, Matthew Purcell, and Catrina Raich. DeRebus co-editor Hannah Palmer, who frequently contributes photos across Avonews platforms, also entered in the Yearbook Photography category.

The Avonews’ experience with PSPA’s competitions date back to 2014. Ryan Johnston and David Clark, two former AHS students and Avonews staff members, were the first to make their mark on the competition. Johnston, a senior and editor-in-chief at the time, and Clark, a junior year editorial cartoonist, ended up winning the Western Region and later the state championships for Editorial Writing and Editorial Cartooning during the one day competition on Penn State’s Main Campus. In his senior year, Clark won the region and competed for another state championship as well, closing out his high school career with a top 5 placement. 

The Avonews has maintained its successful streak since 2016, having at least one staff member advance from the write-off round at Point Park in November by winning the Western region in a variety of categories. Pictured below with glasses is Ethan Woodfill (the older brother of Luke, a senior this year, and Tyler, a sophomore this year) who won the state championship for editorial writing in 2016, and later went on to be the editor-in-chief for Allegheny College’s newspaper.


Another regional winner in the 2010’s was JJ Igims, who was the first Newspaper Sports Story category winner for the staff. Patrick Gannon and Nathan Morgan were other winners later in the 2010’s.


Editor In Chief Isabel Thompson , on left in group photo, added iconic Instagram content for official_avonews while covering her staff members Katelyn Eng  (middle) and Caitie Bellotti  (right) compete at the 2019 State Championship. Sports writer Patrick Gannon also qualified but had a sports conflict and chose not to attend.



In the last regional competition held in-person at Point Park, a record number of Avonews staff won. Seniors Andrew MacDowell for Editorial Cartooning, Nathan Morgan for Newspaper Sports Story, Will Lucas for Newspaper Photography, Kayleigh Scigliano for Newspaper Feature Writing, and Hadley Holcomb for Editorial Writing all had great success. Unfortunately, the state competition was scheduled for Penn State Main at the end of March 2020, when the whole state was in early COVID-19 lockdown.

This year’s staff members competed in Editorial Writing, Newspaper Feature, Yearbook Photography, and two new categories for Avonworth: Literary Magazine Poetry and Stand-Alone Artwork. To Journalism 1, Journalism 2, and AP English teacher, as well as Avonews club sponsor Mr. Tuffiash, the competition is both significant and enjoyable. “Winning the region includes a special moment where that e-mail invitation arrives and you [and the student] know you’re headed to the state competition at Penn State Main, which is a special day of meeting with the best student journalists and, for me especially, a chance to talk to other school advisors and ask questions.”

Senior and Editor-in-Chief of the Avonews, Niomi Ellis, working at her Avonews pub lab desk while she completes her entry in the Newspaper Feature category.
Junior Editorial Cartoonist Catrina Raich crafts her entry for the 2021 competition. Raich was one of two art-focused competitors from Avonworth. 

To prepare for this year’s events, students completed practice trials so they knew what to expect. They reused old, saved prompts from previous competitions, and were timed. They then had to hand in their work to be scored via a rubric to Mr. Tuffiash. “I had begun to prepare the day prior with completing a practice prompt, which had made it a lot easier when it came to completing the writing in the time frame,” said senior and Editor-in-Chief of the Avonews, Niomi Ellis.

The competition caps off at two students per category for each school, so some thoughtful deliberation goes into choosing the category each student enters. For high school junior (and Content Editor & Social Media Manager of the Avonews) Matthew Purcell (pictured below), what he could learn from the competition really came into play: “I chose to write an editorial, which I personally thought was really interesting, in addition to helping develop the writing-under-pressure skills that I’ll need for my English classes over the next couple of years.” This idea of growth seemed to be a common sentiment among all of the participants.

“I feel that I have definitely learned more about my strengths as a writer and how to create something that I am proud of under time pressure,” said high school junior, Associate Editor of the Avonews, and CoEditor-in-Chief of Fragments Laurel Purcell. Purcell tried her hand at timed poetry writing for the first time, a step away from her past editorial writing submissions, and beyond winning, the goal for her was to learn and grow: “I would absolutely participate in the competition again, under either category, and I plan to do so next year.”

Of course, no competition is without challenge. “ I think the biggest challenge was learning to speed up my creative process,” said junior and Avonews staff writer Zoe Trexel. Despite her hard work, Trexel’s piece ended being disqualified from the competition. Students were only allowed to use unlined printer paper, and Trexel was not made aware of this until Mr. Tuffiash noticed she was using a separate piece of paper for her entry with only twenty minutes left. 

“I’m frustrated for Zoe,” said Tuffiash. “The artwork she created is high quality, inspiring, and meaningful. I didn’t even consider that she would use something separate from the provided printer paper, but that’s what good artists do: use creativity, inspiration, and find new combinations. Even the contest coordinator emphasized the talent when I e-mailed about a rules clarification. That’s a tough lesson for both of us – it was the first year I had someone in the literary magazine artwork category and I won’t ever make that oversight about using just unlined printer paper again.” However, growth can only be up, and Trexel was determined not to let this stop her. “Despite the fact that my art can’t be judged [in this competition], I think that piece made me grow a lot as an artist, and I’m looking forward to being able to enter next year.”

PSPA Journalism Contest, Avonews Artists, Literary Magazine, Avonews Competitions
Junior Zoe Trexel crafts her sketch while competing in the Literary Artwork stand-alone category of the PA School Press Regional Journalism Competition. Trexel joined fellow juniors Catrina Raich, Laurel Purcell, and Matthew Purcell as competitors in the contest. Due to COVID risks, PSPA had schools hold the contest separately, instead of the Avonews staff attending Point Park Fall Media Day in early November, which usually includes the PSPA contest as part of the day’s agenda.

Despite the fact that the winners of this year’s competition are still yet to be determined, Mr. Tuffiash is looking forward to potentially adding another recognition to AHS’s trophy case. “The fact that our small school has won so many years is a tribute to the talent, dedication, and efforts of our student journalists. They give time and energy to prepare and for many years it has led to wins that are remarkable each year.”


2 Replies to “Avonews Staff Competes In Annual PSPA Journalism Contest”

  1. I was not aware that this was an opportunity at our school. It was interesting to see this presented. I really liked how you covered past winners.

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