Photo courtesy Shellie Giddings
Luke Anderson, Layla Dustin, Sadie Jensen, Lauren Giddings, Ryan Cheney

MIDVALE — Cameron Garner knows how valuable high school sports are to students, a school and the supporting community.

He’s just grateful to see the arts get a little bit of love - and recognition - for what they offer to those same students, that same school and the same supportive community.

“It’s really nice that the UHSAA is being a little bit more equitable in their recognition of the arts as a competitive field,” said the Taylorsville High Theater Director of a decision made by the Activities Association’s Executive Committee to offer Academic All-State awards to all UHSAA sanctioned activities. “Without being too sassy, I think it’s about time. …I’m thrilled.”

The executive committee’s decision changes more than who can be recognized for the extremely competitive academic award that has been available only to athletes until this year. It also changes how recipients will be chosen.

In the past, earning the award was strictly a matter of being a varsity player who earned one of the top 10 grade-point averages in the classification.

“The rule in the past was that we give out 10 per sport, unless there were 4.0s, and then we awarded all 4.0s,” said UHSAA executive director Rob Cuff. “Now there is a matrix that considers grade-point average and ACT scores. All 4.0s will still be honored, but this allows us to include those kids who may have a 3.9 but scored 33 on the ACT as well.”

Executive Committee chairman Craig Hammer said there wasn’t much resistance to the change, which also changes the way award winners are honored.

“I was sort of in the middle on it,” said Hammer, a former principal who is now the director of Secondary Schools for Washington County School District. “I could see both sides, but there wasn’t a lot of opposition. I think most felt it was a good thing, and probably something we should have done a long time ago. The arts are just as important in UHSAA as athletics. That’s why it’s the Utah High School Activities Association.”

Hammer said it was the presentation ceremony, which took place during championship games for volleyball, football, soccer, basketball, softball and baseball. But other sports, like golf, cross country and track had their certificates mailed to the school. Some had complained about the lack of a ceremony, while others lamented traveling long distances for a ceremony that most of the student athlete’s friends and family couldn’t attend.

Now all certificates will be mailed to the school and each school will choose how to honor those who earn the award.

“As a principal, I could see using this as a real motivator,” Hammer said. “If you do it in the right context, these students are great examples of why we (sponsor) activities.”

Garner said some may see the arts as very different from athletics, but in reality, they offer many of the same life lessons.

“We work really hard, and we essentially have year-long seasons,” he said. “We put in as many hours, and we teach kids teamwork. They have to meet deadlines – as a team and personal deadlines.”

He said we’re used to seeing athletics as competition, but the arts have both formal and informal competitions.

“A few years ago, they structured our (state competition) in a festival format, and everyone who participated got recognized,” Garner said. “In reality, one person gets the part. And that’s important to recognize. The best violin player gets first chair. The best soloist gets the job. We have to be able to train our kids to win graciously and lose with dignity.”

Some might say the subjectivity of art competitions make it tough to compare to sports, but Garner disagrees — both with that argument and what programs like music, choir, theater, speech and debate bring to a school community.

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“Sometimes it may be tricky to understand there are rules, there are guidelines, and of course the arts are subjective in a lot of ways, but so is an umpire’s call. There are very specific things we judge on, and things we measure. It’s not just someone’s opinion. …The arts contribute to the culture of a school just as much as the athletic teams do.” And now, those students who both excel in UHSAA activities, as well as in the classroom, will be treated just like their athletic counterparts.

“The real purpose is to recognize more students,” Cuff said. “We’re going to give out a lot more certificates.”