ZEPHYR — Zephyr High School senior Hannah Thomas listened as an announcer called out the names of the top six finishers in the UIL ready writing contest.

The 17-year-old had advanced to state competition for 1A schools, held May 4 at the University of Texas in Austin, and she waited to learn what the judges thought of her work.

The announcer started with the sixth-place winner, and then the fifth-place. They were students who’d finished ahead of her earlier at the regional level, so Thomas didn’t expect to hear her name called among the top six.

“First place, from Zephyr High School, Hannah Thomas,” the announcer called out.

Tenacious hard work had paid off for Thomas, who is the school district’s first-ever state champion in a UIL academic contest. 

“It was definitely a shock to me,” Thomas said.

Though known as an exceptional writer, Thomas barely made it out of the regional level to advance to state. At the regional contest, Thomas said, she’d neglected to use all of the writing techniques she normally uses and finished in third place at that competition.

In ready writing, students are given two hours to write expository compositions, the UIL website states. They are given two prompts, each an excerpt from literature, publications or speeches, and choose one of the prompts as the topic.

Thomas said she chose a prompt that dealt with hate in America. She wrote about self-entitlement and fear fueling hate. “I definitely felt like I had put out a quality paper,” Thomas said. “I was OK with whatever the outcome was. It was definitely a topic easy to write about.”

Expository writing explains, proves or explores a topic in a balanced way, allowing the argument and evidence given to be the deciding factor in the paper, the website states. The composition is judged on interest (60 percent), organization (30 percent) and correctness of style (10 percent).

Thomas is the daughter of Joe Thomas, a corporal with the Brown County Sheriff’s Office, and Heather Thomas, who works as assistant director of Good Samaritan Ministries. She has been a student in Zephyr since the sixth grade after moving there from Rochelle.

“I’ve always really enjoyed writing,” Thomas said.

At the state contest, DeAnn Perkins, who teaches English at Zephyr High School and served as the ready writing coach, found out before Thomas did that Thomas had finished first. She was instructed to keep that knowledge to herself, so Perkins concentrated on remaining expressionless and avoided looking at Thomas until the results became official.

“I was just elated for her because she’s worked so hard,” Perkins said. “She’s practiced hard, she’s worked hard. I knew that she was very capable of being a state champ because of her writing. I knew she would do everything in her power to do her best. 

“Her writing is fabulous. She’s almost always grammatically correct. She’s a natural-born writer. She’s an excellent thinker.”

Zephyr principal Kelsa Blair said Thomas has “a drive for excellence in everything she does. She’s a well-grounded student.” 

Thomas said that comes from “a strong need to feel I’m doing my best.”

Thomas has participated in other school activities including basketball, cheer, cross country, track and one-act play. She is president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Zephyr and vice president the National Honor Society.

  Thomas said her first-place finish at the state competition was a “great way to end my senior year.”

That’s not all of Thomas’ accomplishments this year: she’s also the valedictorian of her graduating class.