I just finished judging the sports story category in Nebraska Press Women High School Communications Contest.

The task was a late addition to a busy day. Contest director Bette Pore of Grand Island needed some help after another judge had to go out of state for the weekend and was not getting home until later today. The judging had to be done by midnight tonight for our first-place winning entries to advance to the National Federation of Press Women High School Communications Contest.

I had already judged the feature and sports photos. I’m sure Bette had completed some categories too. But there were two left, so I took sports and she handled the editorials.

I know this type of activity is going on across the country with contest directors and judges for both the high school and professional contests.

I hope every NFPW member in either of those roles came to the same two big conclusions I did today.

First, these contests are so important to our organization. Not only are they learning experiences for our members and, we hope, the next generation of professional communicators, many of the award winners may have few other opportunities to get their talents and hard work acknowledged and rewarded.

Second, I see evidence in the high school entries I judged that our profession is in good hands…if only we can get the young people who did outstanding work in the many areas of communications represented in the contest categories to become print and broadcast journalists, public relations specialists, web and print content designers, photographers, authors, editors, and publishers.

We know that the long hours and often low pay in our industries don’t make a good sales pitch for a lot of young professionals, but we also know the rewards of doing something so important.

What is more important than informing and educating people in our communities, states and country, maybe even the world, about what is going on around them? What is more important than standing up for the First Amendment, or doing honest, fair, accurate, informative and entertaining work worthy of that great right to free speech?

Anyway, it was uplifting to be reminded that there is good reason to believe the next generation believes in those things too, as reflected in the talent and passion I saw in the words and photos I judged.

By the way, I’m pretty sure there will be some Nebraska students at the top of the winners list when the national judging is completed.