Eleven students compete at state competition; two will go on to nationals

By: Melanie Williamson

VHS teacher Devon Snook was at the School Board Meeting on Monday, March 13, with four of his speech and debate students to talk about their recent success at the state competition. At the state competition, 11 students from Vermilion High School competed against hundreds of other students in multiple categories.

Snook explained that only four of the students were able to attend the school board meeting because most of his students were also involved in the spring musical or working. He took the opportunity to brag about how hard his students work and how dedicated they are to everything that they do, which fortunately includes speech and debate.

Nina LaBlanc, who competed in the Congressional Debate category, explained to the board how there are several rounds they go through when debating, and they have to prepare for each round without knowing if they’ve actually made it to the next round yet. She shared that being part of speech and debate has “taught me a lot about team bonding, and I am very thankful for having such a supportive coach.”

Kylie Gwynn, who competed in Congressional Debate shared that in her competition, the students take on the roles of congressman and participate in one-hour sessions with approximately 20 students per chamber. Each student has to be prepared to debate several issues. She shared that participating in this category has made her more aware of what is going on because the topics they debate are current issues.

Liberty Oliver competed on a team with Nikki Peter in the Public Forum Debate. Oliver is the first freshman since 2008 to qualify for a state tournament.  In their debate category, Oliver explained that the possible topics vary wildly and the teams need to be prepared to argue both sides of the issues. She went on to explain that they compete in multiple rounds with the later rounds being weighted, so the farther a team gets, the harder the competition gets.

In sharing her personal feelings about the competition and the experience, Oliver stated that it “made me a more well-rounded individual.” She went on to explain that having to really research and learn both sides of every argument has allowed her to look at things differently instead of staying closed-minded to one side of an issue.

Oliver’s partner, Nikki Peter also applied to compete in the World Schools Debate. Based on her application, she was chosen to be one of 10 students to attend the national tournament. She explained that this competition involves teams of five students that make a serious of eight-minute speeches and four-minute replies. What makes this category particularly challenging is that the other team can interrupt students during their speeches to ask questions, and those questions have to be answered. It forces students to be highly prepared and able to think on their feet to respond quickly and accurately.

Of the 11competitors that could not attend the board meeting, Jenna Smith, a junior, placed 55th in Declamation; Shane Troyano, a sophomore, placed 49th in Informative and was named Novice State Champion. Senior Violet Piskur, junior Sarah Webb, and junior Julia Bartlome all competed in Program of Oral Interpretation. Piskur ranked 67th, Webb ranked 53rd, and Bartlome ranked 43rd earning her a spot in the national competition to be held this summer.

Senior Matt Gergely, junior Aaron Vojtus, and junior Kylie Gwynn all competed in Congressional Debate. Gergely placed 73rd, Vojtus placed 55th, and Gwynn placed 8th, which is the highest finish ever for a Vermilion student in this category.

The national tournament will be held Sunday, June 18 through Friday, June 23 in Birmingham, Alabama. Julia Bartlome and Nikki Peter will be representing Vermilion at the national tournament. The National Debate & Speech Tournament has been held across the country since 1931, and is the largest academic competition in the world.

Please also read this week’s School Board Briefs to learn about the discussion over whether the district should pay for transportation to the national debate tournament.




School board recognizes students’ excellence, receives project updates

By: Melanie Williamson

National History Day: Sailorway students worked in teams to prepare projects for National History Day. The goal of these projects is for students to learn about a topic in-depth and then be able to share this new found knowledge with others. Each student group chose the topic they wanted to learn about and then created presentations based on their research. Additionally, students are judged on their final projects and have the opportunity to compete against students from other districts that also participate in National History Day.

Legislative updates: Recently Ohio State Representatives Andrew Brenner and Marilyn Slaby introduced House Bill 58 which would require “handwriting instruction in kindergarten through fifth grade to ensure that students develop the ability to print letters and words legibly by third grade and to create readable documents using legible cursive handwriting by the end of fifth grade.” There are seven other states already making cursive part of the mandatory curriculum.

Ohio House Bill 37 has also been recently proposed and would require the Ohio School Facilities Commission to establish a program assisting school districts in purchasing technology and making physical alternations to improve technology infrastructure and school safety and security. Both of these proposed bills are currently being monitored as they will have a direct impact on Vermilion Local Schools if passed.

Tennis courts: Superintendent Phil Pempin reported that there will be a pre-bid meeting on Wednesday for companies interested in the job. This will give them an opportunity to look at the plans prepared by the architects and to clear up any questions they may have about the project. It will then be open for bids on Thursday, March 30. Pempin stated that once they have a clear price on what the project will cost, they will look into sponsorship and possible naming rights to help cover the cost of the project.

Board member Michael Stark asked if the project included parking. Pempin responded that parking will be in the alternative proposal package. One proposal will be just the cost of resurfacing the tennis courts, which is clearly needed. The alternative proposal will include lights, parking, resurfacing the basketball courts, and adding a bocce ball court. From there, the district will go with what can be afforded. Pempin stated he believes this will be a “fantastic community resource.”

Science wing: Superintendent Pempin also shared that they are currently working on putting together what needs to be done to finish upgrading the science wing so that they can get prices on that project. Last year, the chemistry lab was gutted and rebuilt providing new workstations, more storage, and upgraded safety features such as a new fume hood and sprinkler system.

Stadium parking lot lighting: The board approved a bid of $13,776.62 from Sattelight Electric to install lighting in the stadium parking lot. During the discussion, board president Shelly Innes asked if installing the lights was a safety issue, to which Pempin replied they believed it was. Oates asked if there were grants available to pay for this project. Pempin replied that while there weren’t grants for this specific project, the operations department has applied for a couple of grants for projects that they are just waiting to hear back on. Board member Stark asked if the lights would need to be moved in the future if the lot is paved. Pempin replied no and explained that the lights will be LED with round cement bases like the light sin the other parking lots so that the lot could be paved around them. According to Pempin, there will be a total of three lights going down the center, which are expected to light the entire lot.

Student recognition: As part of the superintendent’s report, Pempin took the time to recognize the many students, teachers, and coaches throughout the district that have accomplished great things over the previous weeks. This included the girls and boys bowling teams along with the boys varsity basketball team all of whom were SBC champions. Coach Kurt Habermehl was named Division II Coach of the Year.

The Winter Guard came in first place in competitions held in late February and Early March. Kylie Gwynn placed 8th in Ohio in Student Congress. Tyler Bath qualified for state wrestling. Molly Wade became the State Champion Archer for the Ohio Archers Association. The 4×200 and 4×400 girls indoor track relay teams had the opportunity to compete at state placing 9th and 17th respectively. The grade 6 and 7 band scored 1 and 2 in the Lorain County Solo and Ensemble Contest, and Chorale scored a 1 at the District Band and Choir competition.

Vermilion Youth Football: The board voted to approve multiple donations made to the newly created Vermilion Youth Football League totaling $850. The donations were from the Vermilion Lions Club, Erie Shores Contracting LLC, Vermilion Taverns, Inc., and Bonnie Meyer.

Transportation for Speech and Debate National Tournament: After hearing presentations by members of the speech and debate team, who recently competed at the state level, Pempin brought the issue of transportation for the national tournament to the board’s attention. He explained that in past years, the district covering the cost of transportation depending on the location of the tournament and the associated costs.

He went on to say that the speech and debate students have worked hard and are an exceptional group of students, who have also paid the participation fee. Based on this Pempin asserted that Mr. Snook, the Speech and Debate coach has requested the district cover the cost of transportation to Birmingham, Alabama for the students that have qualified to compete at nationals. Pempin went on to say that Mr. Snook has stated they will do fundraising to cover the cost of lodging, food, and other expenses. They are only requesting the cost of actual transportation.

Board member Chris Habermehl asked Snook if he was sure he would be able to get the rest of the expenses covered. Snook responded, “I will do everything in my power to cover costs. I don’t want my kids to have to pay to be recognized for being excellent.”

There was some discussion among board members and Pempin regarding insurance issues and whether or not they would need to take a personal vehicle or a school van. Pempin stated he would look into it, but he believes they may be able to use a school van because one of the parents going is also an administrator for the district.

The board members agreed they did not have an issue with paying for transportation, but they wanted to know what the cost would be first along with what vehicle would be used, and how it would work with the insurance. Pempin and Snook agreed to have the needed information collected before the next board meeting, and the board agreed to vote on it then.

Consent agenda issues: Each month the board votes to approve a consent agenda, which includes several items that require board approval such as payments being made, fundraisers, and employment action. After the consent agenda had been read, Habermehl brought up an ongoing problem that items are not being added to the consent agenda when they need to be. He cited the fact that several of the employment actions that were currently on the consent agenda were already done. Meaning teachers and coaches that were taking on additional duties were already in the positions working when the additional work contract had not yet been approved by the board. He asserted this has been an ongoing problem and it needs to change.

Board member Nancy Oates added that the fundraisers have gotten better in that of the fundraisers they were voting to approve, only one had already happened. In the past, the board has voted to approve fundraisers that had already happened because they had not been added to the consent agenda in a timely manner.


School Zone

By: Superintendent Phil Pempin


Despite the weather, the switch to daylight savings time this week signaled the start of spring, and the final few months of the school year.  This time of year brings a flurry of student performances and fun events.  We hope that you will come out and support our students as they share their talents.  Below is a brief list of some of our more popular annual activities.  Please check our website for a complete month-to-month calendar.

March 16-17-18 VHS music department presents the spring musical “Little Women”

March 21   2nd grade music program at Vermilion High School   6:00 PM

March 21   6th and 7th grade Band and Choir program at Sailorway Middle School 7:00 PM

April 7 Vermilion High School annual Student Film Festival 7:00 PM

May 4   Vermilion High School Evening of Excellence 6:30 PM

May 6   Vermilion High School Prom – Community viewing 6:30 to 7:00 PM

May 11 School-wide Fine Arts Fair at VHS  3:00 to 6:30 PM

May 16 VHS Instrumental Spring Concert  7:00 PM

May 17 VHS Choral Spring Concert   7:00 PM



Last week I came across a very interesting and thought-provoking article describing one of the first live audio-video demonstrations of computing and networking in history.  The demo took place in December 1968 when Dr. Douglas Engelbart of Stanford University’s Research Institute International presented a tech demo showing off his team’s oN-Line System (also known as NLS) and its many capabilities, for example:

  • A multi-window interface
  • Underlined hypertext links
  • A graphic interface
  • Video conferencing
  • Real-time, collaborative editing online
  • The computer mouse
  • Revision control / editing
  • Dynamic file linking

It is worth noting that Dr. Engelbart is also credited with inventing the computer mouse.

Many of our students (and even some of our teachers) cannot imagine a world where tools like cell phones, Google, web browsers, Skype and texting did not exist.  Their world encompasses so much more information than was available when computing was in its infancy.  Yet many of the innovations shared in this 50 year-old presentation form the cornerstone of both the Mac and Windows operating systems used today.

One thing we have learned through the years is that computing possibilities are endless.  Every day we hear about another new innovation.  It is exciting to think about all of the new ideas that will become commonplace in the future.  One thing is clear:  the students of today will need to be “lifelong learners” if they are to keep up in this fast-paced and ever changing world of technology.

If you are interested in learning a little more about the history of computing, visit the following website to read the article and view a video of the original demonstration: http://laptops.reviewed.com/features/forget-steve-jobs-this-was-the-best-presentation-of-all-time

Sharing old photos and reminiscing about yesteryears

By: Rich Tarrant


Recently I wrote about developing glass negatives in what used to be my brother, Al’s, former conventional darkroom. But what I didn’t mention is that the same process can also be used to develop film negatives. While Roscoe (my grandfather) left a legacy of about five or six hundred photographs on glass there may be twice that many that are on film. It appears to me that he used glass into the late 1920s and then switched to film. The big problem with film is that unlike the glass it really doesn’t age well unless specifically protected somehow. Anyway, while working this week I began to look through the film and the photographs. Along with the column this week are some – just a very few – of those I came across.  They’re not all great pictures (some are not even very good), but they are interesting, and as one can plainly see they are numbered.

Number one is a photograph that is, by and large, very familiar to most persons interested in local history. It’s a very nice shot of the Helfrich boat-drive-in Restaurant along the Vermilion River. It was probably taken in the mid to late 1930s. Some folks may recognize it as McGarvey’s Restaurant before, of course, McGarvey bought it. The Helfrich family from Lorain operated the place for years. But when Mr. Helfrich fell ill Jesse Hamman took over the bulk of the work. [F.Y.I. Mr. Hamman was a relative of the Hamman who currently runs that great bakery out on Route 60.] One of the things I really like about this old eatery is the screened in porch. I don’t know if there were tables there where patrons could partake, but I’d like to think that was the case.

The little fella in photograph 2 is not someone I recognize. What I do recognize is the site of the picture. It was taken on the south side of the News print shop. The house in the background is very recognizable – though an addition has been placed on the back. And the tree, of course, is no more. I’ve not a clue as to the reason it was taken. Perhaps Roscoe thought it would simply make a cute portrait. It is probably a late 1930s snapshot.

I would recognize the site of the third (3) photo with only one good eye (which is nearly the case). This photograph was taken in the back yard of what was then Charlie Trinter’s home on the west side of Perry Street. This slate-roofed home sits just behind the first house on the corner of Perry and Liberty streets. When I was a youngster the Oscar Farrell family lived there. And when I was a teenager the VHS science teacher “Doc” Howard Ream lived in the home. I spent a good deal of time at that house. First when a McGyver-type character named Bob Farrell lived there, and later when my good buddy Bill Ream lived there. We actually spent a good deal of time in this yard and the basement.

The reason I know that Charles W. Trinter owned this home when this photo was taken is because of the tulips. One of my old schoolmates, Kathy Dickason Kvach, was one of Charlie’s grandchildren. One time, in passing, she mentioned the big flower garden he kept in his back yard. Years later, when my friends and I frequented the area the flowers, like McGarvey’s Restaurant, were no more.

The fourth (4) picture was captured in what is currently my front yard of sorts. Years ago the guys at the Olympic Outing Club used to challenge the guys from Vermilion to a baseball game to be played in the field at the club. Just for fun the players always got dressed up in outlandish / clownish costumes to play. I don’t think it mattered who won. They just had fun. Currently (at least for the winter) the area where they once played is frequented by a large gaggle of geese that appear to be supervised by a murder of crows everyday – all day.

The last (5) photo is a family photograph. I am unable to say where, or even when, it was taken. It garnered my interest because when I saw it I noted that the fellow in the flat hat on the steps in front of a monument is my father. I’ve not been able to identify the monument. And I am equally baffled by my dad’s hat. I never saw him in a hat like the one he’s wearing. Most times he wore a fedora type chapeau. Evidently in his younger years he was a stylish chap.

Well, now that I’ve seen the glass and the film I can very truthfully say that I like both. But the bottom line for me (and I hope for everyone) is not the medium upon which they were captured but what was captured: Whether on glass or film we are provided with a palpable record that serves to enhance both our knowledge and understanding of our yesteryear and, perhaps, of our days to come.

Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant has agreed to share many of the photos and stories he has acquired from the former Vermilion News and other local sources with the readers of the Photojournal. Rich is the youngest son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: rnt@twc.com


Tree Tips: The magnificent mangroves – Earth’s underrated ecosystem

The magnificent mangroves – Earth’s underrated ecosystem

Mangrove forests grow world-wide in the subtropics and tropics and are very important to the overall health of the world’s environment.  Unfortunately, like many other biological systems, they are facing a loss crisis from climate change, industrial overdevelopment and increasing aquaculture and are not recognized by many as a major environmental problem.  Mangroves as such are not a specific botanical group of species, but have more of a certain geographic and ecological community relationship of plants growing in a certain environmental zone.  Mangroves are tropical plants or shrubs growing in intertidal coastal zones worldwide. There are over 70 species of mangrove trees worldwide, but only three main species growing in Florida – red, black, and white, each of whom grow at different heights above the low tide water level.

Red Mangroves – This is the species that is commonly seen and recognizable along coastal waterways.  It grows in low tidal, high-salinity water closest to the coastal edge.  It is easily recognizable by its stilt or prop roots (usually red) that grow in broad arches from branches or the trunk down to the water or soil below the tree.  These root systems form an impenetrable mass that supports the tree from tides, currents, etc. as well providing a safe haven from predators for small fish, shrimp, and other small water animals.  The roots also provide stability as the tree grows in loose mud and, more importantly, it helps the tree gather oxygen from the air.

Black Mangroves – These grow at a higher elevation than Red Mangroves, but do not grow in water, but in muddy, oxygen-depleted soil.  To obtain oxygen, the Black Mangrove roots will shoot up pencil-like growths (called pneumatophores) above the muddy soil.  These pneumatophores are a key recognizable part of the Black Mangroves.

White Mangrove – These trees usually grow at a little higher elevation than the Red and Black Mangroves and on drier land (but sometimes both or all three can be found together).  These have no aerial or breathing root systems.  The White Mangrove is moist identifiable by it longer, elliptical, green-yellowish leaves.  These trees get rid of salt in their systems through leaves.

All things taken into consideration, why are mangroves so important to the environment?  For one, mangrove forests store more carbon than terrestrial forests.  Mangroves can store as much as 10 times the carbon as a comparable sized terrestrial forest, which makes an important component in the fight against air pollution.  Mangroves also help control coral bleaching or killing coral beds, one of the most devastating effects of climate change in oceans.  A third benefit of mangrove forests is providing a coastal buffer zone from tidal, wave, and current erosion of beaches and shorelines.  Also, mangroves provide protection from high winds and storm surges of severe storms and hurricanes.  Also, very importantly, mangroves provide a nursery and sanctuary for small fish, shrimps, crab, small birds, and other wildlife that would be able to find a comparable environment for reproduction, feeding, and safety from predators.

Even though we do not have a mangrove coastal ecosystem on Lake Erie, we need to be aware of its important role in protecting the global environment.

If you have questions or concerns, feel free to contact the Vermilion Tree Commission by contacting Anne Maiden at the Mayor’s Office at annemaiden@vermilion.net or at 440-204-2402.  You are also cordially invited to attend our monthly Tree Commission meeting which is on the second Wednesday of the month. The Tree Commission will meet at the Ritter Public Library on Wednesday, April 12.