Harlem High drama students were recognized last week by the Columbia County school board for winning another state title for their one-act play.
Such accolades are becoming increasingly important as the school struggles to maintain its top-rated theater program.
"The program took a big hit with the opening of (Grovetown High School)," Harlem High drama teacher Roy Lewis said. "My program took a hit to a point where I dropped from 148 kids down to 50."
When Grovetown High opened in August, Harlem High's enrollment dropped from about 1,300 last school year to fewer than 700.
However, the school will remain in Class AAAA until next school year, when it will drop to AAA.
Lewis said he typically takes 25 students with him to one-act competitions. When they traveled last month to the Class AAAA state tournament, he could muster only 12 -- yet Harlem still took home the top award in its region.
Such an achievement only adds to the school's legacy.
Since 1986, Harlem has won 19 region titles and five state championships in drama. Last month, the school won its second consecutive state title and its sixth consecutive region championship.
"We still had some extremely talented kids who were very dedicated to the program," Lewis said of the drama department continuing its winning ways despite the loss of dozens of potential actors and actresses.
Two of those talents were actors Aaron Johnson and Brian Jordan, who performed the lead roles of Morrie Schwartz and Mitch Albom, respectively, in Tuesdays With Morrie , the play Harlem performed to a winning conclusion.
The play is based on a non-fiction novel about a newspaper columnist's friendship with a former college professor suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease.
"It's such a powerful and emotional piece loaded with life lessons," Lewis said.
"The huge challenge for me was to take those two incredible young men and have them convey those life lessons as if they had experienced them.
"But the chemistry with those two guys was just incredible. You can't teach that. They just flat out had it."
Others thought so, too, as Aaron, 16, won best actor at the Georgia Theater Conference and Brian, 18, won best actor at state. Both were named to the state all-star cast, along with Ashton Montgomery.
"They were focused, dedicated and worked hard," Lewis said of the entire cast and crew. "This award is the result of their desire to see a theater program at Harlem continue and for it to succeed."
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