News Gathering

Details can make or break a story, whether that means having enough sources, asking the right questions or being in the right place at the right time. A story can’t leave the audience with any questions, and I’ve used that mentality to produce a lot of the pieces that I’ve written.


Mallory Pugh

The best female, teen-aged soccer player in the nation goes to my school. Mallory Pugh has long been the talk of the town for her involvement with the U.S. Women’s National Team and contemplation that she may soon be off to the Olympics to play for the United States.

Writing her story, because she’s such a big deal, was no easy task. In December, she was gone with the U-20 team taking the field by storm to win the Women’s CONCACAF U-20 Championship. In January, she left again to train with Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo and the rest of the women’s national team.

Once she got back, I interviewed her when she had time during class.

After compiling her interview, I thought it would be best to have the perspective of one of her coaches and one of her teammates. Getting into contact with someone else off of the USWNT was a bit of a long shot, so I interviewed some of her friends who also play on the Mountain Vista soccer team, Giselle Sawaged, Peyton Joseph and Cydney Billups.

Jill Ellis isn’t close to my reach either, so I interviewed Mountain Vista head coach Theresa Echtermeyer.

The story for the yearbook is below, but the process is still in motion as Pugh heads out to play with the USWNT in Texas in February and in Florida this coming March. I’ve been placed on the press credential list for the team’s matches, but it all depends on flight expenses and how things are going with the yearbook back at Vista. Regardless, I will continue producing content in whatever way I can as Mal continues her soccer career.

Only one student at Mountain Vista High School can acclaim to share a field with Hope Solo and Carli Lloyd – quite frankly, only one student in the nation can.

Mallory Pugh, 12, started her journey to the United States’ Women’s National Team when she was only four years old, dribbling the soccer ball with her sister Bri, who had an impressive soccer career at the University of Oregon, as an aspiration.

“Ever since I was little, I’ve always looked up to my sister,” Pugh said. “That’s why I started playing.”

Now, she’s a forward for Mountain Vista, Real Colorado and, most notably, the USWNT.

Prior to her involvement with the Women’s National Team, Pugh was originally on the roster of the U.S. U-15 Girl’s National Team, but missed a hefty amount of the season after fracturing her femur.

“The biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome was breaking my leg when I was a freshman,” Pugh said. “Any injury in any sport kind of sets you back but just being positive with everything can get you moving again.”

Pugh got back up from the injury and went on to be a key player throughout 2013 and 2014 on the U-17 team. As the leading scorer at the 2013 CONCACAF U-17 Women’s Championship, Pugh racked up five goals and three assists, although this came in the same year that the USA fell in a penalty kick shoot-out in the semifinal to lose the qualification for the 2014 U-17 Women’s World Cup.

Pugh finished her U-17 career with 15 international goals in 12 caps, including the game-winning goal against Japan in her final U-17 match-up in February of 2014.

Following her involvement with the U-17 team in 2014, Pugh was called up to the U-20 team, making her the youngest on the roster. In her first camp with the U-20s. she scored two goals and added one assist in two games against China. She captained the team to the CONCACAF Championship victory, clinching a 2016 U-20 Women’s World Cup berth. During the tournament, Pugh won the Golden Boot for scoring the most goals among any other player on the team. 

Soon after, Pugh was called up to the Women’s National Team. 

“I never really expected it at all,” Pugh said. “When I got the call I was really excited.”

In her USWNT debut against Ireland, Pugh headed in a goal during the 83rd minute of the game that ended 5-0, USA. This made Pugh the sixth youngest player in history to score a goal for the USWNT, the youngest to do so in the last 16 years and only the 19th of any age to score in a debut game.

“It was amazing,” Pugh said about her debut-game goal. “When I first went in the game, I was super nervous, and most people can relate to that. But if you just go in and start playing, everything goes away. That’s kind of what happened to me.”

Since then, Pugh has made eight appearances with the team, including games for the CONCACAF Olympic qualification tournament. This made Pugh the youngest USWNT player to ever debut in an Olympic qualification game.

As of March 7, 2016 , Pugh has one goal and eight assists. It’s been speculated she could be a starter on the Olympic roster.

Despite climbing up the ladder of soccer prominence, some of Pugh’s closest friends haven’t noticed a distinct change in her personality.

“Developing as a person and player, Mal’s always strived to get better. That hasn’t changed,” Peyton Joseph, 12, said. “She’s just an easygoing and hardworking person and always has been. She doesn’t take anything for granted.”

Pugh’s Mountain Vista teammates all note that her attitude and actions deem her as a humble leader.

“She makes the competition a lot harder and she makes you work every single day,” Cydney Billups, 12, said. 
“She’s great to play against considering she’s one of the best in the country. Still, she doesn’t make anything easy for you, and it really makes you a better player and a better person. She doesn’t act like she’s better than you or anything like that. She just keeps her composure and she’s a lot of fun.”

Another teammate, Giselle Sawaged, 12, who will attend the University of Texas next year on a soccer scholarship, made a similar observation. 

“It’s amazing to play with her just because of the work ethic she brings everyday to practice,” Sawaged said. “She makes each and every one of us better just by being there and helping us out.”

Her high school coach, Theresa Echtermeyer, notices her power as a leader, too.

“Her humility and her selflessness are very impressive,” Echtermeyer said. “She always wants to do what’s best for the team and that’s one of the things that’s so amazing about Mal – she wants to lift other people up.”

Pugh has long been the top recruit in the nation for the class of 2016. Despite speculation she would bypass college to go pro and play for the Portland Thorns, she has instead decided to take advantage of a full-ride scholarship to play at the University of California, Los Angeles. 

“Looking forward, hopefully I’ll keep playing on the national team and play for UCLA,” Pugh said, adding that the school aspect of playing in college and the atmosphere of UCLA influenced her decision to take advantage of the opportunity to play there. 

The decision to play at UCLA was just one example of the pressure being set on Pugh as many sources like Bleacher Report have acclaimed her to be the “future of the U.S. national team.”

“I know the support system around me is really good so I always lean on them if I need help,” Pugh said. “I just try to not think about the pressure.” 


All Wrong is Alright

The music scene at my high school is beyond impressive, so much so that one of our student bands has played the Marquis Theater in downtown Denver twice, headlining the second of the two shows.

The first time All Wrong took the stage, I wrote a quick intro to give the student body more information about the band.

Soon after, I wrote a piece following their concert that was to be published in the Colorado Community Media papers.

To compose the piece, I visited one of the band’s practices and interviewed each member. I also got into contact with their photographer for photos to print with the story as I was unable to take them myself.

Though I had no idea where the piece would originally go, it became obvious that the connection between the band and its fans was the most prominent aspect of its success. I started there and elaborated upon the process of song-writing, which connected deeply with the underlying tones of mental illness.

To add depth to the story, I interviewed one of the students from Mountain Vista, Noah Hirshorn, who had been a long-time fan of the band.

For further information on the mental health piece, I contacted some of the band members’ counselor, Emma Schofield.

Below is the story that headlined the papers all around from Highlands Ranch to Parker. It can also accessed by clicking here or on the image itself.

The four teens who make up the punk-indie band All Wrong use their life experiences to compose music that connects with their generation:

They write about girls. They write about other bands. But they also write about loss, depression and mental health challenges.

“We’ve all had our own problems in the past,” said band member Tyler Felske, a senior at Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch. “Getting it down in lyrics or in poetry is extremely helpful. Cliché as it sounds, loss inspires songs.”

Besides Felske, who plays guitar and sings, the other band members are Kayson Clarke, lead bassist and backup vocalist; Aaron Albury, the drummer; and guitarist Nick Gunnare, also a vocalist. Bailey Gordon sometimes steps in on vocals. All members except for Clarke are seniors at Mountain Vista. Clarke graduated from ThunderRidge High School last year.

Just over a year old, the band has its own line of merchandise, has released its first album and is recording its second EP. It also is headlining at the Marquis Theater in Denver on Jan. 30. It played the Marquis for the first time last November.

Mountain Vista senior Noah Hirshorn was among the more than 100 fans at the November Marquis show.

“It was great to be able to see his band actually play a pretty legit venue,” Hirshorn said about his friend, Felske. “They have talent beyond just playing instruments. They have the talent of musicians.”

All Wrong shared the stage with other local bands such as 888, Defy You Stars and Almost Maine.

“That show was surreal,” Felske said. “We had seen some of our favorite bands perform at the Marquis, so to share a stage with them is such an honor.”

Many students attended All Wrong’s Marquis show, not only because of the connection they share with band members, but also because of the connection with their music, Hirshorn said.

“After our Marquis show, we had a lot of fans come up to us and say that our music, lyrically, got them through a rough time or even just a day at work,” Clarke said.

Gordon, the band’s occasional vocalist, also recognizes that connection.

“When I met the band and started to relate to them, I realized, ‘Hey, it’s not just me who’s going through this,’” she said. “Because of that connection, we understand each other and incorporate it lyrically. That understanding is how we reach a lot of the fans.”

Gunnare always takes a moment during each show to talk about depression and how people will always be there to help out. A lead writer, he’s transcribed his personal struggles into lyrics and music.

“Because of what I’ve been through,” Gunnare said, “a lot of my experiences write the songs for me.”

For Mountain Vista counselor Emma Schofield, the connection between music and mental health is not surprising.

“I’ve had several students come to me when they’re having an issue and they’ll go through the process of journaling or writing it down and it makes them feel better,” she said. “With musicians who are composing, it helps them to process whatever they’re going through in a very therapeutic way.”

Though Gunnare uses music as an emotional outlet, he also hopes to make it a career.

“My ultimate goal would be to do this as a job and have it make the money for me,” he said. “I think that’s a main part of what keeps me going.”

The band released its first album, “Dead Eyes,” in May. It began working on its second album, “We’re Bitter,” in December.

And band members hope this is only the beginning.

“The goal is for people to look at us and say, ‘All Wrong is something I can get away from the world with,’” Clarke said, “‘All Wrong is something that I can be myself (with) because … All Wrong is all right.’”

Katie Pickrell is a senior at Mountain Vista High School and editor of Mountain Vista Media.

After this piece had been published, I was able to also go to their headlining concert at the Marquis.

For their most recent show, I composed a gallery and wrote a followup that was published on Vista Now.


Better Education

The 2015 CHSPA Capitol Hill Press Conference remains one of the most impactful events I’ve attended with Mountain Vista Media. The entire event was very well suited for someone who wants to write about politics in the future.

The leniency of our reporting for the contest at the end was another huge positive. Before even attending the press conference, I had been roaming around the Capitol with other reporters trying to find a good source to interview for a good story to tell.

The original plan was to converse with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, but we were made aware that meeting with him wasn’t as easy as we’d wished it would be.

As we walked out of his office and back into the hall, I suggested we look for Lieutenant Governor Joseph Garcia instead. After wandering around and examining room numbers for the better part of twenty minutes, we came across his room in the front of the Capitol. When we first walked in, his secretaries were reluctant to let us speak with him. But after standing in his office for only a couple of minutes, Garcia walked out himself and asked what it was we needed.

When we asked if we could interview him, he immediately said yes and told us to wait for him while he finished up a different meeting.

After a short wait, we were able to go in and interview him for about twenty minutes about standardized testing, college initiatives and his work as the executive director of the Colorado Board of Higher Education.

By the end of the day, Kelsey Pharis and I had composed the piece below that can also be found on Vista Now by clicking here or in the “Writing” section of this portfolio.


BOE Forum

The most difficult undertaking of my journalism career thus far has been successfully setting up the Douglas County Board of Education forum. To get it all together, I spent weeks emailing all of the candidates, speaking with administration and wrangling together a staff.

The end product was a completely student-led forum that was open to all of the public and broadcast via the Cube to anyone who was interested in watching.

There was backlash from the incumbent candidates’ campaign manager referring to the bias of our reporting, which you can find more information on in the “Law & Ethics” portion of this portfolio. I can assure anyone that the accused bias was completely nonexistent as every student’s voice was heard and considered in the process of putting everything together.

Every question asked was either created by or submitted to the staff of Mountain Vista Media.

To further increase student involvement, I also notified all of the journalism advisers in Douglas County of the event and encouraged them to send me the names and contact information of reporters that would be interested in either reporting on or participating in the event. In the end, we had student journalists from schools all around Douglas County reporting on the forum presumably for their own publications.

The broadcast below ended up getting nearly 3,000 hits. The one-on-one interviews following the forum all racked up publicity as well.

The challengers all defeated the incumbents by at least 16-point differences in every match up.

To follow up, we sent out an email to all candidates asking for a statement. Two of the losing candidates issued no response and the winners all offered to come back for a separate meeting I arranged to answer more questions going ahead.