While sporting events and other sanctioned school activities returned to a sense of normalcy this winter, high school speech and debate remained exclusively remote, even through the state tournaments held Jan. 29-30.
Despite having to adapt to performing without an audience, or even eye contact with judges, competitors from Flathead Valley cleaned up during the competitions, with Whitefish and Columbia Falls high schools going one-two in the Class A tournament, while Flathead and Glacier high schools were second and third, respectively, in Class AA.
“Every state tournament comes down to mental toughness and bouncing back, as there are just too many rounds for perfection,” Sara Mueller, coach of the Whitefish team, said after the tournament. “This one seemed like an extreme example.”
Every member of the Bulldogs team scored points at the tournament, helping lift Whitefish to a 200-167 overall win over Columbia Falls, ending a 15-year winning streak. Laurel (112) finished third.
Mueller said the virtual format had a steep learning curve, taking a good portion of the season for students to figure out what translated from an in-person delivery to one given to a computer screen.
“The amount of movement you can put into a piece, the physicality of a performance, that’s all changed,” Mueller said. “It’s also been hard for judges, because they [usually] look for that sense of connection with a student’s piece or a debater’s case and argument.”
Whitefish had two individual champions, Paetra Cooke in memorized public address and Abigail Bowden, who took top honors in both extemporaneous and impromptu speaking.
Mueller said the field going into the state tournament was the closest she’d ever seen, with defending champion Columbia Falls and perennial powerhouse Frenchtown putting up good results all season.
“It was crazy close and crazy competitive, and the kids deserve that,” Mueller said. “In a lot of ways, this virtual season took the reward of competition out of the way. Everything’s anticlimactic — [students] just get an email from me if they win.”
“Having such a competitive sense to the state tournament added the excitement and reward back into the mix,” she added. “It made it real.”
In the Class AA tournament, the team scoring was close until late Saturday afternoon, when Bozeman’s season-long dominance and a late surge by Flathead cemented the top three places. Bozeman won with 206 points, well clear of Flathead (163.5) and Glacier (139.5). The three schools combined to win 12 of the 13 individual events.
“We scored nearly 20 points higher than we did last weekend, but it just wasn’t enough,” Glacier coach Greg Adkins said.
Throughout what was at times a “very frustrating” season, Adkins strove to create an atmosphere and schedule that adhered to a normal season as much as possible.
“Unless our kids were quarantined, we competed at Glacier every weekend,” Adkins said. “Friday night rolls around and they go get ready to compete in rounds on Friday and then all day Saturday. It sort of felt like a tournament.”
Adkins’ biggest worry was that the lack of “normal” competition opportunities would keep many students from coming out for speech and debate, but nearly 100 students stuck with it.
“Ultimately it’s about being on a team, and I think helping each other and being around each other,” Adkins said. “A lot goes into the coaches and the older kids buying into the format, and they did.”
“But I would be afraid if we were going to do this again next year,” he added.
Glacier had four individual champions and seven all-state placers, while Flathead took the top spot in five individual events and had another 10 earn all-state honors.
“This was a tough, tough season.” Adkins said. “This team never gave up, and in the end, that grit is really what matters.”
Policy Debate: 1. Mason Fauth/Alexandra Houseworth, GLA; 1. Emma Stephens/Tre Finley, CF; 2. Danika Tintzman/Ali Hirsch, WF
L-D Debate: 3. Eva Bruce, FLA; 1. Eddie Chisolm, CF
Public Forum Debate: 1. Callie Johnson/Raphe Salmon, CF; 2. Zoe Temper /Addie Blackaby, WF; 3. Stacia Tremper/Sophie Tabor, WF
Legislative Debate: 1. Annalise Mason, FLA; 3. Jake Keller, GLA; 4. Simon Roston, GLA
Extemporaneous: 4. Scout McMahon, FLA; 1. Abigail Bowden, WF; 4.Grayson Butler, WF
Impromptu: 1. Neila Lyngholm, FLA; 4. Leah Spangler, FLA; 1. Abigail Bowden, WF; 2. Chloe Coberley, CF; 3. Paige Moriarty, CF; 4. Adrienne Healy, WF
Humorous Interp: 1. James Francis, FLA; 2. Jasmine Anderson, FLA; 3. Bauer Hollman, FLA; 1. Ruby Davis, CF; 2. Zack Tilman, CF
Program Oral Interp: 4. Isabella Shinn, FLA
Dramatic Interp: 1. Jane Trina, GLA; 3. Kadence Johnson, FLA; 1. Griffin Conger, CF; 2. Lucy Schindler, WF
Duo Interp: 1. Carson Robison/Ella McGuffie, FLA; 2. James Francis/Kadence Johnson, FLA; 4. Avram Bingham/Kaelin Holt, GLA
Original Oratory: 1. Dresden Allred, GLA; 2. Mac Adkins, GLA; 3. Carson Robison, FLA; 4. Isabella Shinn, FLA; 2. Griffin Conger, CF; 4. Paetra Cooke, WF
Memorized Public Address: 1. Aryana Allred, GLA; 3. Alexa Wilton, GLA; 4. Avram Bingham, GLA; 1. Paetra Cooke, WF; 2. Lucy Schindler, WF; 3. Julia Sowerwine, CF; 4. Taylor Stephens, CF
Informative: 1. Neila Lyngholm, FLA; 3. Hailee Williams, GLA
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