Prior to my appointment here at Houston Academy, I was the Upper School Director at University School of Jackson in Jackson, TN. In my five years in Jackson, I had the pleasure of getting to know a number of great kids, but one of the young people who stands out in my mind is Eric Dietz. Eric Dietz was the tailback on our state-finalist football team. He was one of the toughest football players I’ve ever seen. Eric could hit like a freight train; he would certainly rather run you over than run around you. Eric was talented enough and hard-working enough to take his football skills to the University of Mississippi. In high school, Eric also lettered in basketball and track, qualifying for state in track, three times. In addition, Eric was an Honor Roll student. He has continued to make Honor Roll at Ole Miss, while majoring in Mechanical Engineering.
“So what?” you might say, “We’ve had plenty of scholar-athletes graduate from HA – just like Eric.”
True. We do a great job here at HA in that regard. Our students are more than prepared for college, and they are always talented in a multitude of areas. But, to me, what set Eric apart (besides the fact that he was a gentlemen who was kind to others), was his skill on the stage. Eric could sing beautifully. He starred in multiple musicals, including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Furthermore, Eric made the Tennessee All-State Choir two times.
In fact, All-West Tennessee Choir auditions took place in Memphis (90 miles away), early on a Saturday morning. Eric played in a particularly physical football game Friday night, woke up early the next morning, and drove to Memphis. He auditioned for All-West Choir, and then went to our Choral Director to ask if he could help her do anything. She suggested to him that he might want to go home and sleep.
Now, again, Eric is a pretty special young man, but he is not unique in that many of Eric’s peers were athletes, scholars, AND artists/singers/musicians/actors. Being in plays at USJ was “cool.” Almost everyone wanted to do it, and competition for leading roles was fierce. With their talented students and with their outstanding music teachers and directors, USJ put on productions that were often of professional quality.
Moreover, these students gained immensely from their participation in theater. It is difficult to replicate the pressure that comes with performing in a play. The ability to get up in front of a crowd and perform is an invaluable life skill. After all, how nerve-racking is a sales presentation after you’ve done that?
HA already has a band and a chorus that are better than I have ever seen in a school our size. Too, we already have an amazing visual arts program. However, the one missing component is a true performing arts program. That is a HUGE hole in our curriculum. And, there is an enormous demand from our students for a theater program. This fall, we had 32 students go out for our lower school musical (which will be taking place the 3rd week in October). Moreover, in the upper school, we have a large number of students who are participating in drama activities through SEACT, Flagship, and Spark Theater. Now, we have the resources and the teachers in place to have an outstanding theater program. I firmly believe that our drama and musical theater program will be every bit as good as our band, chorus, and athletic programs.
I should emphasize, too, that having a strong drama program in no way denigrates any of our other extracurricular and co-curricular activities. It’s not a zero-sum game. We CAN be excellent in all areas, and we SHOULD be excellent in all areas.
I don’t want to hear anyone say we’re not capable of winning state championships in ANY sport. I won’t listen to someone tell us we can’t have the best theater program in the area. Please, don’t tell me what we can’t do! As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.”
We are about to embark on an exciting journey in our school's history. We are going to strengthen an already strong arts program, and we will have no peer in the state of Alabama. Likewise, we are going to continue to win state championships in athletics. Our students can have it all. And they will.