The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has chosen Kylen Running Hawk, a student at Morris Area High School in Morris, Minnesota, as the 2021 national recipient of the National High School Heart of the Arts Award.
The National High School Heart of the Arts Award is now in its seventh year and was created by the NFHS to recognize those individuals who exemplify the ideals of the positive heart of the arts and represent the core mission of education-based activities.
Kylen Running Hawk’s love for the theatre was nurtured very early in his life thanks to television commercials for the annual Medora Musical – a summer show held near his native Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota that he would later describe as “the most spectacular thing” he’d ever seen. However, the likelihood he would find his own success as a stage performer seemed improbable given the obstacles in front of him.
For starters, English is a second language for Running Hawk, who, as a member of the Hunkpapa Lakota, grew up speaking Lakota Sioux on the reservation. He began learning English when his family moved to Morris, Minnesota in 2013; and as if that wasn’t already difficult enough, he had to do it with deafness in his left ear that doctors could not repair after multiple surgeries.
Perhaps the strongest testament to his commitment, Running Hawk developed the ability to read lips to aid him in learning the language, and he continues to work on some of the longer, more complex words. As one can imagine, this forces him to work extremely hard to memorize his lines for each production.
Now the president of the drama club, Running Hawk has branched out into several other performing arts activities at Morris High School. He sings in the choir and is on the speech team and was the first person to sign up for mock trial when it was added to the school’s list of offerings last year. Based on his prowess at Morris, he had the option to attend the renowned Perpich Center for Performing Arts in suburban Minneapolis for his senior year, but he respectfully turned down the opportunity because of COVID-19.
While he may no longer live in Standing Rock Nation, Running Hawk remains very proud of his Lakota heritage and enjoys performing at powwows, parades and other events in traditional tribal apparel. His ancestral pride is also evident in his plans for the future, which include attending the University of Minnesota, Morris to pursue a degree in education with emphases on choir and theatre, then using his knowledge and arts talents to benefit Native American students.
“I'm a kid from our reservation who has the joy of being into the theater, where other kids have never had that experience. I’m thinking about bringing theater into the reservation. I've always wanted people from my reservation or any other reservations to get a chance, because the only way that we get to experience this is to go off the reservation to other schools. And that's why there's not that many Native American actors; not many kids are exposed to this kind of thing.”
Kylen Running Hawk
Interview with Minnesota State High School League
About the Award
The NFHS National High School Heart of the Arts Award Selection Committee chose an additional five individuals and two groups for section awards to accompany Kylen Running Hawk as the national award recipient. The 2021 National High School Heart of the Arts section winners are found below.
Section 1 – Noelle DeBiase, former student, Middletown (New Jersey) Mater Dei Prep High School (MDP)
DeBiase was diagnosed with Congenital Hypotonia at birth, a condition characterized by decreased muscle tone, problems with mobility and posture, breathing and speech difficulties, ligament and joint laxity and poor reflexes. Despite being given just 13 days to live and later being diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder and high-functioning autism, DeBiase fought through seemingly insurmountable adversity to become a competitive dancer, percussionist and singer, and an integral part of the Mater Dei Prep performing arts department. Prior to graduating 16th in her class of 2020 with a 4.3 GPA, DeBiase was in the school band, liturgical choir, Seraph music group and Super Smash Bros. video game club and participated in spring and Christmas concerts throughout her four years of high school.
Section 2 – John Stroube, executive director, Kentucky Music Educators Association, Richmond, Kentucky
While he has held several positions over his lengthy tenure with the Kentucky Music Educators Association, Stroube’s leadership has taken on a different meaning during the pandemic. His passion for music advocacy led him to conduct his own virus research, approve guidance for a return to school music activities long before national studies were completed, and provide administrators with strategies for mitigating risk, as well as a sense of reassurance. In his resident community of Richmond, Kentucky, Stroube programs concerts throughout the year for a band he organized in 2009 and previously served for five years on the board of the Richmond Area Arts Council. He is also the artistic director for the Great American Brass Band Festival held each year in Danville, Kentucky.
Section 3 – Evan Thurber, student, North Port (Florida) High School
Following the tragic death of his stepfather when he was in eighth grade, Thurber discovered music – particularly marching band – to be a healthy, positive outlet and expanded his involvement throughout high school. As a junior, he was selected to a leadership position in North Port’s marching band and was part of its first Indoor Marching Scholastic group. As the only member with indoor percussion marching experience, he helped instructors set the standard for a culture of ensemble integrity. Thurber, who carries a 3.8 weighted GPA, has previously volunteered to help teach percussion students at the local middle school and has begun performing at Sunday services for Edgewater Church. His work with Edgewater also includes services for the church’s Celebrate Recovery program for people suffering and recovering from addiction.
Section 4 – Avon (Indiana) High School Orchestra Chamber Players
The Avon chamber players group was formed just a few months prior to the pandemic as an extension of the Avon High School orchestra. When the pandemic took hold, the chamber players set out to make a positive impact on their community and partnered with Life’s Journey, a hospice organization in the town that could only allow its patients very limited contact with friends and family. The group began playing a “patio recital” series on Fridays in an open courtyard at the Life’s Journey facility, offering patients opportunities to enjoy the music through their sliding doors. They even made the extra effort to reach immobile and bedridden residents, moving around the grounds – while maintaining a safe distance – to play outside each patient’s bedroom window.
Section 5 – Kylen Running Hawk, student, Morris Area (Minnesota) High School
Section 6 – Isaac Fry, student, Loveland (Colorado) Resurrection Christian School (RCS)
Fry has assembled quite the performing arts resume throughout his career at Resurrection Christian School. He has been the symphonic band percussion section leader all four years; drumline captain for three years; an all-state honoree for concert band, symphonic band and philharmonic orchestra; and a performer in six different honor bands and orchestras. He has also composed seven original musical works for school ensembles. In speech and debate, Fry was a national qualifier for the international extemporaneous speaking category and an Academic All-American. He received the Heartwork Service Award in 2019 for helping restart the RCS drumline, and has volunteered 250 hours playing liturgical music at three community churches. Astonishingly, he has accomplished many of these feats while also making time to assist his mother during the rapid decline of her eyesight.
Section 7 – Midvale (Utah) Hillcrest High School (HHS) Theatre and Music Team Student Coaches and Leaders
The music and theatre departments at Hillcrest High School feature a unique guidance structure. Performers of each musical piece and theatrical scene are assigned a student coach or leader who helps prepare them and travels to their competitions to get them warmed up and focused. While students and teachers at HHS understand the value of these passionate peer mentors and their part in the school’s numerous performing arts accolades, they go unheralded at awards presentations due to the rarity of their role. That passion and love for the arts was most evident this past year, as Hillcrest’s student coaches and leaders organized a virtual showcase for students whose competitions were canceled, and then guided other students to several national first-place honors during a virtual competition in the fall.
Section 8 – Petra Karr, administrator, Washington State Thespians (WST), Burien, Washington
Prior to passing away last April from complications brought on by COVID-19 and an aggressive form of cancer, Karr was a significant contributor to the Washington State Thespians. She served most notably as the head of WST’s Student Thespian Officer leadership program for more than 10 years, and also offered theatre students insightful and supportive feedback as a competition adjudicator. Karr was a passionate teacher of WST’s student officers and guided them to become strong, vibrant, confident leaders in the artistic community and the community at large. She also started and ran a community theatre – ACT 1 Theatre in Sumner, Washington – that performed in churches, parks and other venues, and gave many people young and old access to theatrical experiences.
Nominations for this award were generated through NFHS member state associations and reviewed by the NFHS National High School Heart of the Arts Award Selection Committee composed of state association staff members. While the national winner will be recognized June 29 at the NFHS Summer Meeting in Orlando, Florida, the section winners will be recognized within their respective states and will receive awards before the end of the current school year. The National High School Heart of the Arts Award was started in 2014. Including this year, eight individuals, one band and one theatre group have been chosen national award recipients.
The previous award recipients are as follows:
2014 – Leia Schwartz, student-athlete/performing arts student, Miami (Florida) Coral Reef High School
2015 – Ethan Gray, performing arts student, Chicago (Illinois) St. Rita of Cascia High School
2016 – Midland City (Alabama) Dale County High School Marching Band and Band Director Sherri Miller
2017 – Josephine Ross, student, St. Paul (Minnesota) Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School
2018 – Cecelia Egan, student, Riverside (Rhode Island) St. Mary Academy-Bay
2019 – LaRaine Fess, drama teacher at Beaufort (South Carolina) High School and the Beaufort High School Theatre Department
2020 – Cailin Martin, student, Newport (Rhode Island) Rogers High School