#1StudentNWI: Despite quarantine, the Merrillville Pirates find success

#1StudentNWI: Despite quarantine, the Merrillville Pirates find success

At the end of November, the Merrillville High School Pirate football season came to a close with 10 of 12 games resulting in victory. Overall, the season was a great success.

The most exciting wins of the season were the sectional championship game against Jefferson High School and the regional championship against Elkhart High School. Head Football Coach Brad Seiss believes all of the hard work the team put in really paid off.

“Both teams came into the game undefeated, and many people had probably written us off,” Seiss said. “We played our best game against Jefferson and took care of business from the get go, playing great both offensively and defensively. Our Elkhart win was an exciting win, too, because we didn't play very well and had to retake the lead a few times. But when it came down to crunch time, our offense scored when we needed them to, and our defense got stops in perfect time, which was great.”

One of the bigger goals for the team was to win the Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) and to make it to the state championship game at the Lucas Oil Stadium. The Pirates fell just short of heading to Indianapolis, however, they did gain victory as DAC champions.

Despite all of the precautions and safety guidelines enforced, the team faced severe losses due to COVID-19. In just the second week of practice, two players tested positive. The team eventually went from 110 players to just 80 due to positive cases and people having to quarantine due to exposure. They also lost two home games due to cancellations from Michigan City High School and Valparaiso High School.

“I'm extremely proud of our kids that we were able to play every single week,” Seiss said. “It shows how responsible they were in the locker room, at home, and in public making sure they were doing their part to ensure that we could play safely.”

Overall, the Pirates were glad they were able to have a season at all. Senior Armani Glass is proud to be a part of such a resilient and hardworking team.

“This season has been a roller coaster of emotions and full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.” Glass said. “I just want to say thank you to the entire coaching staff and everyone who supported us this season. The name on the front of that jersey will always mean more than the name on the back.”

Student Spotlight: JoJo Johnson

JoJo Johnson
Photo taken by: Braeden Schmidt

While senior JoJo Johnson has only been attending Merrillville High School for nearly half a year, his outstanding athletic accomplishments and positive attitude have carried him to great success.

Johnson transferred from Morton High School at the start of the 2020-21 school year to continue his football career at a more challenging level as a Pirate. Throughout the 2020 season, he played as receiver, cornerback, quarterback, kick returner, and was ranked top 50 in the state. His impressive status and flexibility led him to receive offers from 18 different colleges including the University of Notre Dame, which he verbally committed to on November 24, 2020.

“I picked Notre Dame because it’s close to home, they have a very good team, and their academics are top notch,” Johnson said. “I also have a very good relationship with Coach Mike Mickens.”

Johnson started playing at the age of five and has grown to realize that football is his passion.

“It’s just a certain confidence that I feel playing every game because I know I’m ready. I always want to show what type of player I am when I’m on the field,” Johnson said.

Despite all of the challenges this year has presented, Johnson is proud to say that he ended his senior year feeling accomplished with his number one supporters by his side.

“A lot of my close friends and I started off as Pirates at a young age. Coming back for my final year and being able to finish together is something I’m really proud of.”

Upcoming events: choral department prepares for holiday concert

Merrillville High School choirs have been hard at work preparing for their upcoming Christmas concert. Every year, the choirs put on an elaborate holiday showcase including over an hour of carols and choreography, festive lights and projections, and the traditional closer: Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” This year’s production has been slimmed down to meet COVID-19 safety guidelines and precautions, but it will still be as fun and merry as in previous years.

merrillville high school choir

The Advanced Choir, also known as the Choralteens, has been working on its holiday repertoire since the end of October. Each Monday night, the choir comes together and records a few of their songs. In the end, all of the pieces will be compiled into a large video that will be live streamed for audiences to watch from home.

With the unpredictability of COVID-19, Director Melinda Reinhart is making sure that everything continues to run smoothly by keeping all of her students 100% confident in their material in case they are needed to help fill in for students unable to attend rehearsal.

merrillville choir

“We never know who’s gonna be able to show up on Monday nights,” Reinhart said. “We just kinda run with whoever is there, and we’ve had situations where somebody couldn’t come and we had to find someone else who knows the music to step in and cover for whoever couldn’t be there.”

The concert is planned to be broadcasted live on Thursday, December 17 at 7:30 p.m. For more information and updates, visit https://www.facebook.com/MerrillvilleChoir/

Reinhart applauded her students and all of the effort and dedication they have put into the upcoming performance.

“To be able to do a piece without knowing who you’re going to have or the limited amount of time that you actually have face-to-face and being able to rehearse…it’s pretty amazing what these kids have accomplished so far this year,” Reinhart said.

Teacher Spotlight: Melissa Sickinger

Melissa Sickinger

Melissa Sickinger is a favorite teacher of many students at Merrillville High School. Her optimistic and fun vibe has allowed her to bond with hundreds of students, making their last year a memorable one.

Sickinger graduated from Munster High School in 1998 and started off her career at Purdue University in West Lafayette, majoring in English education and minoring in dance choreography and performance. She has been teaching at Merrillville for 18 years and currently teaches AP Language.

“I have always liked English and had some pretty stellar teachers at Munster,” Sickinger said. “Maybe that is what made me the resident ‘ask Melissa for help on your papers’ in our dorm at Purdue. I realized that I was pretty good at helping people write better papers - if I taught them how, then they came back to me less for help.”

Sickinger has found creative ways to teach her curriculum while bringing energy back into the classroom.

“I love and miss our AP Lame Days,” Sickinger said. “We plan a day month where we have a theme and I match a lesson to it somehow...Tropical Tuesday, Flannel Friday, Crocs and Socks, Camo Day...those are my favorites! I also love our ‘leaderboard’ inspired by my Orangetheory workouts. Students can make the leaderboard each hour by earning the highest score on multiple choice, making improvements, or doing a stellar job on a project.”

Outside of school, Sickinger and her family run the Harvest Tyme Pumpkin Patch in Lowell. Throughout the holiday season, the patch hosts a drive-thru holiday light display with over half a mile filled with thousands of twinkling and colorful lights. She also enjoys spending time with her children and husband, finding time to have fun whenever they can.

While many students would agree that Sickinger has made a drastically positive impact on their lives, she feels they too have made her both a better teacher and person.

“They appreciate me, motivate me, and make me want to be better tomorrow than I was today,” Sickinger said. “The gratitude they show me fills my cup and allows me to pour positivity into others. I have been blessed with amazing students who are the reason I continue to do the best I can even during this pandemic.”