THS debaters sweep state
"We won it all!"
Megan Needham's comment sums up Tonganoxie's victorious weekend at the state debate tournament.
The 14 Tonganoxie High School debaters came home victorious in their competition against 40 schools -- with a combined total of 37 wins and six losses.
In the four-speaker tournament, made up of Megan Needham and Heather Harrison on the affirmative team and John Wickey and Heather Young on the negative team with Kaitie Pestock and Will Lipe as alternates, each THS team was undefeated in seven rounds for 14 straight wins.
This follows the Jan. 17-18 regional competitions in which the teams were undefeated in a total of 12 rounds.
Harrell said this is somewhat of a landmark.
"We don't think there's been an undefeated state championship in any classification since 1996," Harrell said. "And we're not sure how far back we'd have to go to get a regionals and state."
Tonganoxie debaters on the two-speaker teams fared so well that they didn't have to compete in the final round -- the teams systematically began knocking out all the other schools well before that.
"Paul Reetz and Andrew Becker and Kelly Woelk and Caleb Poterbin were both undefeated in preliminaries," Harrell said. "They were the top two seeds -- they closed out the tournament."
These two teams, undefeated in all eight rounds, brought home trophies for first and second place.
The THS co-champions in two-speaker and four speaker teams racked up a combined weekend record of 30 wins and zero losses.
Also faring well were Angela Pestock and Jordan McCarty, who debated seven rounds and finished fourth in the state out of 40 teams, and Brian Gravatt and Seth Kotowske, who finished 3-3.
"So they had a good record, too," Harrell said. "They were pretty close."
The combined THS scores for the state tournament, held at the Blue Valley schools, was 37 wins, six losses.
Harrell, who could best be described as exuberant Monday, said the team had received kudos from former THS debaters. Luke Manson, a 2001 THS graduate attending college in New York City, even sent a red and white cake to the school where Monday morning things were at a momentary lull as the winners soaked up their success.
"Right now they're all sitting around eating cake and reading their ballots," Harrell said of the students in the debate classroom fondly referred to as "The cave."
Harrell credited the team's success to the hard work of everyone, as well as to Dave Mitchell, his assistant coach for the past four years. Mitchell is a graduate student in public administration at the University of Kansas.
"I think he and I have both grown over the last four years," Harrell said. "His background was from a big school -- Hays -- and he likes to talk fast and run the theory arguments. That helps the older kids."
Mitchell works with the debate and forensics students on weeknights, and travels with the teams on the weekends. Having him as a part of the team has helped both the students and the head debate coach.
"We bounce ideas off each other and keep each other motivated," Harrell said.
Whatever their chemistry has been, it obviously worked.
Megan Needham read judges' comments from several ballots: "You rocked the house because of your approach to speaking," one judge wrote. Another's comment: "Good points, good presentation, voice and diction and very confident speakers."
And Needham said, Tonganoxie debaters are well known.
"Everyone is really scared of Tonganoxie because of our past successes," Needham said. "They knew that we would be big competition for them and they did their best to prepare."
What makes Tonganoxie so different?
"I don't know," Needham said. "I'm not exactly sure what other teams do, but specifically the last three weeks we worked every single night, we share our work, we share every bit of information that we get and that makes it more efficient."
And, the coach is there, too.
"Mr. Harrell's been with us every step," Needham said. "If we're here from 3 o'clock to 10:30 at night he's there working with us."