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Steele student makes history at UIL Congress State Championships

Steele student makes history at UIL Congress State Championships
Steele students from left to right Preston Nnadi, Julius Strawther and Sam Dominguez
L-R: Preston Nnadi, Julius Strawther, Sam Dominguez

“Being the first person makes me so proud. I am proud of how I performed and I am proud of everyone who helped me prepare. I’m glad that I was able to represent Steele and make sure everyone knows who we are.”

Those were the words of Julius Strawther, the first student in Steele Early College High School’s history to compete in any UIL state competition. The sophomore placed third at the ESC Region 11 Congress in November, sealing his historic trip to Austin for the UIL Congress State Championships.

In January, he joined just 44 other students at the 2A State Congress at the University of Texas at Austin campus and the Texas State Capitol building, and for the first time since the campus was founded in 2010, a Steele Stallion represented NISD at the state level.



Congress, a branch of UIL Speech and Debate, is an individual contest in a large group setting that models the legislative process of the United States Congress. Contestants draft legislation, submit it to tournament officials, then research the docket of bills and resolutions dealing with real-world social and political policies prior to the contest to prepare their speeches.

At the tournament, students caucus in committees, deliver formal speeches on the merits and disadvantages of each piece of legislation, and vote to pass or defeat the measures they have examined. 

“It takes so much time to prepare,” Julius said “First you have to write your own bill, then you have to write all of your speeches for regional and state bills that are chosen. In the end, that comes out to a total of about 40 speeches that are three minutes each. So, it’s definitely a lot of work, but it all pays off in the end when you get to do your speeches and show everyone how hard you worked.”



Julius, however, wasn’t alone in his endeavors among some of the state’s brightest minds. He was joined in Austin by fellow Steele students Sam Dominguez and Preston Nnadi. Sam, a freshman, and Preston, a sophomore, finished sixth and eighth at Region 11 Congress, respectively, and were named alternates for the state competition.

“We looked at this as a team opportunity,” said Amberly Tanner, speech and professional communication teacher at Steele who is also the speech and debate coach. “Preston and Sam were alternates at state, so there was a very slim chance that they would get to compete. They still went to Austin and they prepared just like they were going to compete, and people were really impressed by that.

“Also, they were helping Julius to prepare before and during the competition, and so we really worked the whole event as a team. It was infectious, and now they are sharing those experiences with the rest of our team that wasn’t able to make it to Austin.”



Speaking of making the trip to Austin, one member of the trio almost didn’t make it. UIL State Congress began on January 9 when NISD students were still in the midst of Winter Break. Sam and his family spent a portion of the break in Colombia and had plans to return home a couple of days before the Steele students departed for Austin.

However, the same day they were scheduled to fly back to the United States was the day many flights were canceled because of an incident on an Alaska Airlines flight in Portland, and Sam’s hopes of joining his team in Austin started to look grim.

“We managed by some stroke of luck to get a flight to Miami on the first day we tried to leave,” Sam said. “But then we were at the bottom of a long stand-by list in Miami. It was just a whole lot of looking for tickets. When we finally got back to DFW, I think I slept for four hours then my mom woke me up and we drove to Austin.”

Sam ultimately arrived in Austin around lunch time on January 9 as the State Congress was already under way. He missed the morning session of the event’s first day, but that didn’t dampen his spirits.

“I wasn’t planning on missing it all,” Sam said. “I really wanted to be there, not just to support Julius, but to also learn about the dynamic of being at the State Congress. I feel like I did well at Region, but I know I could’ve done better, and I think we will all make it to State next year.”

The whole team took on the mindset of learning from the trip, no matter the outcome. Although Julius didn’t advance to the second day of competition, the entire team attended the second day, held inside the Texas State Capitol, to soak up the atmosphere and fuel their hunger to advance to that final stage next year.



Surprisingly, none of the three students who made the trip to Austin have current aspirations of entering into the political world or seeking an elected office. However, the experiences they’re gaining are certainly going to serve them well in their life beyond NISD.

“I have a really big interest in law in general,” Julius said. “I definitely want to go to law school. I also love politics, and I think I want to major in political science. Being able to see the Texas State Capitol like we did really inspires me to always do my best so at some point I can be working to advance the state of law.”

“Personally, I want to go into computer science and cybersecurity,” Preston said. “Being able to communicate and work well with people is a big part of that, and just life in general. I’m not really interested in law, but knowing how to research and speak publicly is an important part of any career.”

“I am choosing between two things,” Sam said. “My grandfather was a lawyer and I always liked what he did. But, I’m also looking at aerospace engineering. I feel like either way, Congress helps with my communication skills and being able to interpret other people.”

“First and foremost, they are citizens,” Mrs. Tanner added. “Knowing how difficult it is to pass legislation and how the process works is beneficial. Also, communication, how to read people, how to work with people, critical thinking and much more are all skills they use in speech and debate, and those skills are all transferable to any place they want to go in life.”



As if making history at his campus isn’t enough, advancing to the UIL Congress State Championships had one other huge benefit for Julius. He is now eligible for numerous Texas Interscholastic League Foundation scholarships which are awarded to students who participate in state-level UIL Academic competitions.

During a typical academic year, TILF will disburse more than $1 million to over 500 students. To be eligible, students must have competed in a UIL Academic state meet at any point in their high school career and plan to attend a college or university in Texas.

“We’ve had the goal at Steele to increase our participation in UIL Academic events,” Mrs. Tanner said. “We want students to have the opportunity to compete at State, and a huge benefit of that is to be eligible for a whole series of scholarships that TILF offers.”



Now that Julius and the team have bursted through the ceiling and tasted a state-level UIL competition, their goals continue to grow.

“The goal is to all make it to State next year,” Sam said. “I’m excited to have the chance to do this again and I know we’re all going to place.”

“Everyone should experience a UIL state-level event at least one time,” Preston added. “I feel like the main goal is to continue to work hard to put Steele’s name out there.”