Cravens wins UIL Sponsor Excellence award
By Jan White
LATEXO – On Monday, Jan. 9, Latexo High School Principal William Dugat received a letter informing him that his nominee Audrey Cravens had been chosen as a recipient of the 2022 Sponsor Excellence Award by the UIL Academics Academy.
Since its inception in the early 1900s, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) has sought to provide educational extracurricular academics, athletics, and music to encourage young people to expand their educational horizons. Created by the University of Texas at Austin, the league provides the opportunity to learn about teamwork, representing one’s school, winning and losing, giving and taking, and self-motivation and intellectual curiosity – qualities essential to the best academic participants.
According to the UIL website, the Sponsor Excellence Award was created “to identify and recognize outstanding sponsors who assist students in developing and refining their extracurricular talents to the highest degree possible within the educational system while helping them to keep their personal worth separate from their success or failure in competition.”
Audrey Cravens is just that person.
Cravens is originally from the area. She attended school in Kennard until transferring to Crockett, where she spent her sophomore and junior years. Her last year of high school was spent as an exchange student in Holland. “I’ve always liked education,” Cravens said. “I loved college. I loved grad school. I’d love to go back and get more education. I really enjoy sitting, taking notes in lectures. It’s fun.”
Cravens’s teaching career began in Lockheart near Austin, where she taught seventh grade “every single period of the day. The same thing in each class. It bored me to tears.” After she and her husband Chris, also a teacher in Latexo ISD, moved back to East Texas, she taught in Kennard for three years. “I wanted to be back here,” she said, “because this is where I’m originally from. It’s where I grew up.”
Cravens wanted to continue teaching in Kennard, but her husband and sons were in Latexo, which made life challenging, so she applied to and was hired by the Latexo ISD. Cravens confesses that initially, she hated leaving Kennard because Latexo had such a different atmosphere than the hometown she’d grown up in.
“It took me a while to warm up to it, but now I have my own little domain here. I get to teach my kids starting in eighth grade, and I’m their only math teacher from eighth grade all the way through their college math, AP classes, college algebra, and statistics. Our kids can get all those different college credits. And I’ve been teaching them since eighth grade, and I know exactly what I’ve taught them. So if they come up with this line, ‘I’ve never seen that before,’ I’m sorry, “Cravens chuckled, “but that just doesn’t fly.”
Cravens has been a UIL coach for twenty-two years, which is also how long she’s been teaching. But she says that she wasn’t a serious competitor until 2011. Her team won for the first time in 2012 and went to state in Texas Math and Science Coaches Association (TMSCA) and, in that same period of time, to the statewide Texas UIL.
Cravens emphasized that students must have a competitive spirit to win the competitions. “It’s hardcore trying to win. You have to climb the ranks, just like in sports. You have to get to regionals, then area - all that stuff that they [sports] have to go through. And as you make it, you keep climbing. We’ve won TMSCA and UIL state competitions for the last ten years in mathematics.” Cravens said that her newest team, the calculator team, made it to state last year for the first time. Even though they got fifth place, which Cravens said is “actually last place,” they were just excited to go, and hope to rise in the ranks this year.
Although she enjoys all of her students, Cravens says that she really gets close to her team members. “I pull my teams from my regular students. That way, I know if they have enough time and enough energy and motivation and responsibility to study as much as it takes. It’s hard enough being in pre-AP and AP and all the math classes. Some of my kids are in my classroom four periods a day doing math. It’s intensive.”
Her role as a sponsor is just as intense. “When you’re a sponsor for academics, and you’re competitive at the state level, you probably spend thirty hours a week outside of school just doing UIL. That’s in addition to all your other ‘teacher work’ that you take care of. And if you’re a serious competitor, you’re gone to a meet from dark to dark, and you take the kids to all the practice meets as well.”
Cravens said that just a couple of weeks ago, the team attended a competition at Woodsboro and went head-to-head with last year’s number two winner. “We wanted to see how they are doing this year. Find out how they have improved in a semester.” Cravens said that the Latexo team won the competition. “It was fun, and it made the hopes for the state competition in May all that much stronger.” She said her teams have already been to about sixteen competitions this year to prepare for the main competition.
When asked why the UIL competitions are so important to her, Cravens shared her personal story. “I had just come back from being an exchange student. Three weeks after I got home, it was time for college, so I went to college and failed the math placement test. I had to take remedial math.”
Cravens said she was ashamed and admitted that part of the failure was her own irresponsibility and an initial lack of motivation. But she felt the educational system was also to blame. “They couldn’t find math teachers here when I was growing up. I remember one year in Kennard when my math teacher was the principal. He would stop being the principal for that one period and teach us algebra. There just aren’t that many people applying to be math teachers in rural areas. That’s something that’s always driven me since I’ve become a teacher. To make sure that none of my kids have that experience when they go to college. And I want them to get the best they can have. I want them to have as much math as the people they’re competing against to get into those universities. Yes, I like to win, and it’s fun. But seeing them make the ninety-nine percentile in math on their SATs or ACTs – seeing them get into Rice, or A&M, Or UT – seeing them go to good schools and come back and tell me math was the only subject they were prepared for – or “everyone thinks I’m a genius and wants to be tutored by me.” That’s ultimately what drives me.”
Cravens first learned of the UIL Sponsor Excellence Award about ten years ago when a coach she admired won the award. At the time, Cravens thought, “Man, she must be great to have won that.” When Craven learned she won this year, she said it was an honor to be grouped with other coaches whom she held in such high regard. “One of my idols won it ten years ago, and now I’ve won it. That really means a lot to me.”
To win the competition, the school’s superintendent or principal has to nominate the UIL sponsor. Cravens said that she’d been nominated twice before, “But it takes years and years of wins. Your philosophy has to be correct. You have to promote UIL and offer meets and go to meets and events. There’s a lot that goes into the actual award.”
One thing Cravens regrets is that her father isn’t here to see her receive the award. “My dad died six years ago. Before he got down with cancer real bad, he would come to every state competition that we had. He and my mom, and my sister would come and support us. I just wish I could share this with my dad.”
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