Group’s win makes two for PWHS

Limited Edition’s victory comes on the heels of qualifying performance by extracurricular group, putting Port High in rare company of those that have had two groups in same semifinal

LIMITED EDITION’S Margo Halbleib was surrounded by members of the group as it performed Saturday during the Varsity Vocals a cappella quarterfinal at the Oak Creek Performing Arts Center. The Port Washington High School group won the competition and will advance to the semifinals at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, where it will compete against Port High’s extracurricular a cappella ensemble FOCUS. Photo by Robert Tyree
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington High School’s Limited Edition has done it again by winning the Varsity Vocals International Championship of High School A Cappella Great Lakes Quarterfinals on Saturday in Oak Creek in pursuit of a semifinals win and trip to the finals in New York City for the second time in as many years.

And that’s not even the big news.

Limited Edition’s win comes on the heels of a Feb. 4 second-place quarterfinal performance by Port High’s extracurricular a cappella group FOCUS, putting the school in the rare company of those that have had two groups competing in the same semifinal.

Dennis Gephart, Port High’s vocal director and director of Limited Edition, who is a veteran of a cappella competitions, rattled off the names to two schools, one from Wisconsin, the other from New York, when asked how many schools he recalls sending two teams to the same semifinal.

“Other than that, having two groups from the same school in the semifinals is pretty unheard of,” he said.

Although both Port High groups are headed in the same direction — to the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee for the March 25 Great Lakes Semifinals — they’re coming from different places.

Limited Edition, which has long been the darling of Port High’s music program and celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, is a perennial a cappella powerhouse and former Varsity Vocals international champion.

Last year’s group made it to the final, where it finished fifth. With several members of that ensemble returning this year, the group is once again focused on a trip to New York.

“If you make it to the semifinals, that’s huge,” Gephart said. “But to make it to the final in back-to-back years would be really incredible.”

Among Limited Edition’s returning members is senior Lucas Poull, who at last year’s final competition was named Outstanding Vocal Percussionist, an honor he won again at last week’s quarterfinals.

“This is the kid who as an eighth-grader told me he had to be my vocal percussionist,” Gephart said. “He’s determined to hang onto his title.”

Poull said the group is focused on returning to New York, this time with more experience under its belt and higher expectations.

“Last year we were just super thrilled to be in New York for the experience,” he said. “If we make it back this year, we’ll be super thrilled about the experience again, but to take it all would be amazing.”

The other Limited Edition member to receive an individual honor at last Saturday’s quarterfinal competition was Isabella Schmitz, who won the Outstanding Choreography award.

“Isabella’s work in theater is phenomenal, and when she got done with the musical she said she wanted to try choreography for Limited Edition,” Gephart said. “A cappella is a lot different, but she’s doing a great job.”

While Limited Edition is the veteran group with a legacy to defend, FOCUS is the underdog with everything to prove.

FOCUS, formed to give more Port High students access to a cappella music, is making its first trip to the semifinals.

The group is young, comprised of mostly freshmen and sophomores, but talented and hard-working, said Stephen Lanza, a former member of a college a cappella group who now works as an engineer in Milwaukee and is the volunteer director of FOCUS.

“Talent is one thing, and they are indeed talented, but what you can’t teach is the work ethic, and they have that,” he said.

Students cannot audition for Limited Edition until they are sophomores, so FOCUS is the entry point into the school’s a cappella program.

“FOCUS gets pegged as the JV team, as the wannabes,” Lanza said. “Limited Edition has been the shining star of the music program for so long, so it’s so cool to see FOCUS have success.”

Since only one group advances from each of the Varsity Vocals semifinals held throughout the country, Limited Edition and Focus will be competing against each other at the Pabst Theater. And while the goal of both groups is to top all the others in the competition, FOCUS is, well, focused on one in particular.

“FOCUS has an additional objective, and that is to beat Limited Edition,” Gephart said.

Poull said, “There’s definitely some friendly competition. If they were to beat us, they would make sure we never forget it.”

Regardless of which group outperforms the other, having both of them in a top a cappella competition is a win for the Port Washington-Saukville School District and the communities that support its music programs, Gephart said, adding that he hopes people take advantage of the opportunity to see Port High students perform at the Pabst Theater.

“We’re going to fill the place,” he said. “It’s going to be huge.”

Tickets for the  Varsity Vocals Great Lakes Semifinal, which begins at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, can be purchased at


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