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Diaz earns gold medal in state writing contest

Jean Ann Collins presents Ivan with his UIL award. Each year the students in the journalism program at PHS finish the course by writing press releases. The class partners with the Princeton Herald to publish the stories. These are also featured on the district website under Latest Headlines. This article is written by Haley Romero.

Senior Ivan Diaz was not in an English-speaking classroom until he was in the third grade. But that didn’t stop him from winning the state championship in an English writing competition only eight years later.

Despite English being his second language, Ivan has excelled in journalism the past two years. He recently advanced to the top of the UIL contest and won the gold medal for headline writing.

“I started learning English in third grade at a rundown Arizona school,” Ivan said. “It was hard at first because I had to learn it from nothing, but when I started to get the hang of it, it was easier. Now I can change whether I need to think in English or Spanish depending on the situation.”

Journalism adviser, Jean Ann Collins, wasn’t even aware that Ivan wasn’t a native English speaker.

“We were on our way home after he won a gold and bronze medal at district in two different writing contests, and he was on the phone with his mom speaking fluent Spanish,” Mrs. Collins said. “That’s when I realized he’d just won an English writing contest and had only been speaking the language for eight years.”

Not only did Ivan learn to speak English fluently, he also learned how to write headlines swiftly.  

“Ivan wasn’t even a headline writer prior to this spring,” Mrs. Collins said. “He started practicing about two months before the state contest when we had a student withdraw. But he was just a natural so he picked it up quickly. And he had a great work ethic and wanted to practice a lot.”

A new banner hangs in the school for Ivan's championship. Going into regionals, Ivan knew it would be tricky, but he was also thrilled.

“I was already home from the regional competition and I got a text from the journalism group chat that said, ‘Ivan made it to state,’ and I was pretty excited,” he said. “There were lots of kids in the room at the state competition, so it looked like the odds were stacked against me. It doesn’t help that our region has some of the best journalism schools in the state.”

Along with being in UIL journalism, Ivan also plays the baritone for the marching band and is the president of the award-winning program. The Princeton and Argyle bands have developed a deep-seeded rivalry, battling it out year after year in the UIL marching contest. And, as luck would have it, one of Ivan’s competitors was a headline writer from Argyle, who placed higher at the regional level.

“As they were calling out the winners, all the other schools that were placing were from schools I had never heard of, so it got my hopes up,” Ivan said. “But when they announced Argyle High School in second place, I looked at Mrs. Collins and I was like, well there goes my chance.”

Mrs. Collins knew immediately after judging who was going to win the state championship, and she tried her best to keep it a secret.

“The look on Ivan’s face was priceless when they announced him as the gold medalist,” Mrs. Collins said. “He was shocked. I’d been sneaky all afternoon acting like I didn’t know he’d won the contest. I even asked him if wanted to stay for awards or go home.”         

Mrs. Collins’ deception seemed to work because he had no idea what to expect.

“I had completely stopped paying attention and kinda just leaned back into my chair,” Ivan said. “I was so shocked my jaw dropped when they said, ‘from Princeton High School, Ivan Diaz.’” 

-- Story by Haley Romero.