Inside competition day: The Acatonics take on ICHSA


Photo by Dheen Veerabadran

The Acatonics rejoice after their victory at ICHSA Quarterfinals.

My alarm went off at 9 a.m. on Feb. 26, marking the beginning of competition day. I brushed my teeth, showered and put on some comfortable clothes under my a cappella windbreaker. I carried downstairs my pink Victoria Secret bag, overflowing with my competition outfit, makeup and hair products, two mirrors, a hair straightener, and jewelry. After scarfing down a hearty breakfast, my dad drove me to school where the bus that would take us to St. Charles High School in beautiful Waldorf was waiting. 

Senior Lizzie Nelson had already started braiding the girls’ hair for competition. She started at 10:30 a.m. and did not stop until 6 p.m. “It was actually the most exhausting thing but I think it was so worth it,” Nelson said. 

Everyone was jittery, unable to contain their excitement. On the bus, people played cards, word games and listened to music to pass time and hype ourselves up. Junior Dhanya Philipose was tasked with vlogging the whole trip. “I was able to talk to a lot of the Acatonics and get their feelings about competition.” 

Once we arrived at St. Charles High School, we got situated and played a game of rock, paper, scissors to pick our representative. The luckiest person would win the game so the luckiest person would have to pick our order number for the competition. Senior Helen Sarikulaya won and we got number three. 

After changing, we headed to the auditorium for a sound check. We had 15 minutes to run through our 10-minute set and make corrections. “Sound check was very nerve-racking because it was a practice run for our competition but the adrenaline and nerves took over when we stood on that stage,” junior Fiona Lin said. 

Full disclosure, it was a bad rehearsal. We changed keys midway, tripped on each other, and sang too fast. Everyone walked off the stage with a stunned expression plastered on their face. But I kept repeating to myself and everyone around me, “It’s OK, bad rehearsal means amazing performance.”

We headed back to the room and chorus teacher Keith Schwartz gave us some time to get ready before practicing again. Senior Elizabeth Ipe and I noticed some of the boys’ shirts were wrinkled. We had no iron but we couldn’t have wrinkly shirts on stage so I pulled out my hair straightener. It was a group effort: Ipe, seniors Michael Seibert, Justin Wang, Roshni Arun and sophomore John Yi all took turns holding the shirts up while I ironed them. 

At 6 p.m, we went to the cafeteria to eat lunch. We were all given a cold sandwich, bag of chips and a cookie. There was even a Ziploc bag with a single pickle in it. But we were all too hungry to question it. Senior Luke Jordan brought Lady Alice apples (the perfect combination of sweet and tart) for us as well. 

At 7:30 p.m.,  it was time for us to perform. We lined up backstage. Adrenaline coursed through our veins. Schwartz walked down the line, giving each one of us a warm hug. The emcees announced, “From Thomas S. Wootton High School: The Acatonics!” and we got ready to perform our set for (what we thought) was one last time. 

I felt a rush of emotions. I wanted to cry but not out of disappointment, out of sheer happiness.

— Elizabeth Ipe

As the last note rang in the air and the sound of applause filled the room, we got up in silence, the only sound being our heavy breaths. We were halfway back to our room when everyone started jumping up and down in complete joy. We cheered, and pulled each other into the tightest embrace. “I felt a rush of emotions. I wanted to cry but not out of disappointment, out of sheer happiness,” Ipe said. 

After many hugs and cheers, we decided to watch the final two performances in the auditorium. This is when the performance high disappeared and anxiety took its place. “The groups’ sound and blend were great and they had amazing soloists. I became a little nervous at that point,” Dhanya Philipose said. 

After the last performance, the producer of the show came onstage. It was time to announce the awards. All the groups made their way to the stage. We held each other’s hands so tightly. I crushed sophomore Jake Silverman and junior Gabby Wright’s hands. None of us moved as they announced the second place winners. Senior Divya Philipose looked back at me, her eyes wide with worry. We looked up to the sky and prayed as the announcer began to announce the ICHSA Quarterfinal champions.

“After they announced us as the winners, I was full on sobbing. My heart was so full and it was hands down the happiest moment of my life,” said Dhanya Philipose. 

Junior Fiona Lin said, “the competition brought us closer and made us the family we are today, allowing us to share a happy memory that we would remember for a lifetime.”

The Acatonics are now working hard to prepare for semifinals which will be held on Mar. 26 in New Jersey. The current group will also be the first ever to compete in an in-person semifinals as well, so the stakes are high. Schwartz even has us running three miles per week to build up stamina and breath support. Every minor detail counts and we are focusing on just that as the Acatonics work toward semifinals.