Students in Texas will soon be able to compete for state bragging rights over who is the best at playing mariachi music.
The University Interscholastic League will in the next school year have mariachi as a category in its music competitions.
The UIL governing board worried about setting a precedent for other, lesser-known types of music. But it thinks mariachi will prove popular among the 500,000 Texas students who take part in music classes.
"The bottom line is, we thought this would have a lot of statewide attractiveness," said Richard Floyd, the state director of music for UIL.
Officials will meet in mid-February to fine tune guidelines for the new category, which they expect will be especially popular in areas such as the Rio Grande Valley, El Paso and San Antonio.
The UIL's decision is being welcomed by such students as 13-year-old Alex Solis.
"I can't live without mariachi," said the eighth-grader, who is half Hispanic and half Asian. "I don't know where my life would be right now without music."
Jose Longoria, a math teacher who founded the mariachi band at Solis' middle school, said he can't wait to sign his kids up for the first recognized competition.
"It's a special recognition for the music of mariachi," he said.
Since this will be a UIL event, students must pass their classes to participate.
"It helps us stay on the right path," said Sabrina Rosas, 13, who plays the violin. "And it does teach you more about yourself and your history."
Houston Independent School District leaders, who helped lobby for the change, say they hope it's one of the first steps Texas takes to encourage more Hispanic students to participate in art and academic competitions.
Michael Fain, director of UIL activities for the Houston school district, said he's also pushing UIL to add academic events in Spanish.
HISD is piloting a bilingual speech competition to gauge interest in that event.
"The second I have any academic contest that's not offered in Spanish, I've left somebody at home," Fain said. "We don't know how far this will go, but at the minimum, we're creating opportunities that otherwise wouldn't be there."
Story courtesy of the Associated Press.