Statewide Recognition

Poplar Bluff students win a string of state accolades
Posted on 12/20/2012

Poplar Bluff Schools has an especially talented student body this academic year, if the past month is any indicator, having had several teenagers from junior and senior high achieve statewide honors in the arts, music, sports and theater.

“Poplar Bluff is so fortunate to have the talented students we do in our school system, displaying excellence both in and outside of the classroom,” R-I Superintendent Chris Hon said. “This is just a sampling of the young people that are going to lead our community, state and even the nation in the future.”

Junior High placed in five competitions during the Missouri Junior Beta Club Convention held Nov. 30 at the Black River Coliseum, with eighth graders Tori Travers taking first in the special talent portion of the program and Katie Huskey in quilting, each qualifying to compete in nationals June 15-22 at Mobile, Ala.

Shortly thereafter, High School seniors Lauren White and Darius Sales were named to All-State, White to play English horn for the band Jan. 26 during the Missouri Music Educators Association Conference at the Lake of the Ozarks, and Sales being selected as punter for the top football team.

Meanwhile, senior Austin McWilliams and sophomore Davis Summers of PBHS Thespian Troupe No. 4379 were chosen to perform their award-winning comedy “Greater Tuna” for mainstage Jan. 11 during the Missouri State Thespian Conference in St. Louis, a first-time honor for the district.


In addition to playing host to the annual Missouri Junior Beta Club Convention for the last decade, Poplar Bluff has consistently made its presence known in the statewide contests. But having two students win first place in a single year is something “special,” according to club co-sponsor Candace Warren, an eighth grade teacher.

“Tori is a very talented singer, kind of like Taylor Swift. She’s actually making the rounds in Nashville trying to get discovered,” Warren said. “Katie is extremely smart—she’s in my honors class for geometry, and she’s also a big cross country runner. You just give her a task and she takes off with it.”

Katie’s winning quilt was made from patches of old jeans upholstered with a curtain. The 14 year old explained that she picked up the pastime watching her seamstress grandmother Mary-Lou Speidel craft various garments and blankets growing up.

“She can sew just about anything you can imagine,” said Katie, “and I’ve almost always used a quilt she made as a blanket at night.”

At the 2011 convention, Katie entered a smaller orange and blue quilt with rectangular patches, and her work took third place. She has since become more efficient, spending 30-35 hours on the denim quilt, as opposed to 50 hours last year, Katie estimated.

“Everything Katie does, she’s going to give 110 percent,” said Poplar Bluff Junior High science teacher Krista Yarbro, the other co-sponsor of the club.

A country/pop musician, Tori performed “Could Be,” one of several original songs she has written, at last month’s convention. Tori has recently completed a demo CD, which is self-titled, and will be available for purchase at her album release party from 5-8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 29, at Las Margaritas.

The 13-year-old, going on 14 come January, is also a self-taught guitarist. She received the stringed instrument for her birthday this year, and has already perfected the chords.

“I remember being at school [and] actually missing being able to play,” Tori recalled, exclaiming: “I’d sit in my desk and hit the chords on my pencil as if it were my guitar!”

With influences like Beyoncé, Sara Evans and Taylor Swift—who Tori has met on three occasions—the emerging local artist explained that she has sung for as long as she can remember, and is constantly writing lyrics, only holding on to a bar or chorus when it is catchy. “If I’m not already on my guitar, I’ll go and start to play along to match my tune,” she said.

The Junior Beta Club winners agreed that they would like to compete at the National Junior Beta Club Convention, if financially feasible.


Sales is the first Missouri All-State Football Team punter since Greg Nagy landed the designation over 25 years ago, according to the Daily American Republic’s records. The media is responsible for nominating the first-team players, and DAR Sports Editor Brian Rosener, along with a representative from a Farmington newspaper, made the case for Sales during a recent conference call.

“His numbers were pretty impressive in terms of pinning an opponent near their own goal line and averaging 36 yards per punt,” Rosener explained. “It also helped that the Mules defense only gave up an average of 18 points per game and they were 5-5.”

A 5-foot-10, 175-pound outside linebacker, Sales only wound up punting mid-season after Cody Fromm suffered an injury. Something of a natural, the senior attributed his accuracy and distance—along with his unorthodox kicking style—to playing soccer as a goalie when he was a young boy.

“I’ve been a linebacker since the second grade,” Sales noted. “But (continuing to punt) would save me some pain, and I’d still be able to play the sport I love.”

According to Rosener, being named to All-State for football mainly equates to bragging rights – the athlete is considered the best in Missouri for that sport, and Sales’ photo will be displayed in the trophy case of the E.T. Peters Gym lobby.

For White, being named to the Missouri All-State Band means she will participate among 108 students in an elite ensemble next month. This is the third year in a row for White making the top honor band in the state, this time on the English horn, only one of her orchestral fortes.

“I think I knew how to read music before I know how to read words,” White commented.

The daughter of Buddy and Cindy White, who run the music program at Three Rivers College, Lauren’s musical journey began even before she was born.

“At the time, I was playing oboe regularly in Cape Girardeau and piano regularly in Poplar Bluff. Lauren’s father is a percussionist,” Cindy said. “I remember vividly her reaction to hearing the English horn solo and the marimba solo while I was playing a concert shortly before her birth.”

Today Lauren is a highly acclaimed English horn player, an accomplished pianist and she plays percussion in the PBHS Sho-Me Marching Band. She has also achieved state level honor I ratings on the oboe, which is pitched slightly higher than its double reed companion, the English horn—each instruments known to be the most difficult of the woodwinds to master.


Davis and McWilliams were previously quoted as saying winning second place and best actors for “Greater Tuna” April 21 in Columbia during the Missouri State High School Activities Association Speech, Debate and Theatre Championship was the “highlight” of their 2011/12 school year.

Now the high schoolers will have the opportunity to perform the comedy at the International Thespian Festival, if they make a splash during the state thespian conference in a few weeks.

Under the direction of drama teacher Jo Nell Seifert, “Greater Tuna” involves 45 costume changes, as McWilliams and Davis play all of the eccentric characters in the small fictitious town of Tuna, Texas.

“It is an absolute hoot to see them change characters in a matter of seconds,” Seifert said. “I’ve directed plays for 30 years. This is the most fun I have ever had.”

Behind the scenes, Summers revealed that it is a bit nerve-wracking considering: “You’re taking the pressure of an entire case, and placing it on two people.”

McWilliams added: “A matter of seconds, and suddenly you’re on stage as a new character.” He credits their backstage crew Cinnamon Langley, Myriah Mestas and Alexa Miller for getting countless costumes, props and wigs ready for the actors.

“Both boys are A students. They are so funny! They are dedicated, smart, kind, popular with students and teachers, driven, hard-working… and I could go on and on,” Seifert stated. “These boys are gold.”


Cutline: (From left) Katie Huskey, Lauren White, Austin McWilliams, Davis Summers, Tori Travers and Darius Sales (front) have put Poplar Bluff Schools on the map in recent weeks, all having achieved statewide recognition for their exceptional talent.

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