Archive for Wednesday, May 14, 2003

It’s sweepstakes for THS!

May 14, 2003

After 14 years of numerous successes, the Tonganoxie High School forensics department has added a new win to its impressive resume -- sweepstakes.

The 2003 team took home the top trophy in this year's state 4A high school competition. This means the team's cumulative scores topped that of all other Kansas 4A schools.

The ever-crowded debate and forensics classroom at Tonganoxie High
School hasn't dampened the teams' success. Pictured amid a flurry
of activity are teacher Steve Harrell, center right, and students.
In the background are some of the numerous THS trophies from debate
and forensics meets. Because the room has no windows, it is often
referred to as "the cave."

The ever-crowded debate and forensics classroom at Tonganoxie High School hasn't dampened the teams' success. Pictured amid a flurry of activity are teacher Steve Harrell, center right, and students. In the background are some of the numerous THS trophies from debate and forensics meets. Because the room has no windows, it is often referred to as "the cave."

"That's the first time we've won the sweepstakes on the speech and drama," said Steve Harrell who has taught debate and forensics at THS since 1989.

"It's been 14 years in coming -- it's our eighth one total (including debate sweepstake wins), but it's the first one for forensics."

That tops off an already successful season for a team that in March qualified for national competition. On Memorial Day weekend, the forensics team, as well as the THS debate team which qualified last fall, will compete in the National Catholic Forensics League competition in Arlington, Va.

On May 20, 13 students, and seven faculty members and judges will pack their bags and boxes for a cross country bus trip, which includes time for sightseeing in the Washington, D.C., area prior to the competition. It's not feasible for debate teams to fly, Harrell said, because the students will have to pack along at least 15 boxes of research material. In fact, because there will be extra room for storage on the bus, the school arranges to transport, for a fee, debate materials for other schools.

Students, of course, have enjoyed recent successes at the state level and are looking forward to the challenge of a national competition.

Excellence breeds excellence

Johnny Wickey will top off his senior year by joining his teammates on the Virginia trip. He said it's the outstanding reputation of the previous THS forensics teams that each year challenges current team members to excel.

"The past success of the program drives us to be our best," Wickey said.

State championship teams

Kelly Woelk, second in oration, fourth in poetry; Andrew Becker, fourth extemp; John Wickey, fifth extemp; Paul Reetz, second extemp; Kristi Bishop, eighth oration, 14th informative; Megan Needham, second informative, seventh oration; Angela Pestock, 13th informative; Jordan McCarty, 19th prose; Devin Hughey, first prose; Jeff Dennis, third duet; Joel Nido, third duet; Heather Young, second prose; Kaitie Pestock, eighth prose; Caleb Poterbin, seventh extemp. Additional senior class members are Janelle McCoy, John Bretthauer and Justin Palmer.

Lincoln-Douglas debate (both qualified for national competition)

Britian Stites eighth, and Brian Gravatt, sixth.

National speech and drama

Angela Pestock, extemp; John Wickey, extemp; Kristi Bishop, oration; Jordan McCarty, prose/poetry; Devin Hughey and Janelle McCoy, duo

Team statistics

13 top-3 sweepstakes finishes

283 top 9 individual finishes

42 state championship qualifiers

77 state festival qualifiers

6 I-division state festival ratings 11 state championship semifinalists

10 state championship medalists

2003 4A state speech champions

State festival squad

Daniel Morris, Sandy Elliott, Jake Williams, Linsey High, Tristan Bowersox, Shadoe Barton, Heather Harrison, Tyler Truesdell, Colt Coffin, Ben Jefferies, Jason Smith, Meagan Sivyer, Brandon Stevens and Jeff Gravatt.

Heather Young seconded that by adding: "Johnny speaks for all of us."

Unlike debate preparation, which often keeps the students, teacher and coaches burning the midnight oil at school for weeks on end, forensics allows the students a little more freedom.

"It's not as much work as debate," said Jordan McCarty. "We don't have scheduled nights of the week that we all come together. It's more individual time with Mr. Harrell that we practice."

McCarty has participated in debate and forensics during all four years at THS.

Wickey, who does extemporaneous speaking, said his goal this year was for the team to win a state championship. He was not disappointed.

Leaving shyness behind

Joel Nido said one of his goals was to qualify for national competition, which of course also happened. Nido's focus is on informative speaking and oration. This means he writes and rehearses his speeches ahead of time.

Wickey, on the other hand, prepares at the last minute: "We draw three topics, choose one, and then you're allowed 30 minutes to prepare a seven-minute memorized speech," Wickey said.

Although that sounds difficult, Wickey, who has been in forensics for four years, said it's not.

"I've gotten used to it," Wickey said. "I've done it so long that it's not hard to do."

Heather Young, who took second in prose and oral interpretation of literature at state, said she's allowed to select and practice her pieces ahead of time. She's learned a lot from Harrell's coaching.

"He's pretty instrumental when it comes to practicing and telling us how it should look and sound," Young said.

Forensics teaches students how to present themselves.

"It really helps you get away from the shyness and just go out there and do your best," Young said.

Students wholeheartedly voice their approval of debate and forensics, as well as of their teacher.

Wickey said he would readily recommend that a student participate in debate: "If they want to be a part of a winning team and have a wonderful coach.

McCarty agreed: "If they want to have a taste of success and they're willing to work hard for it."

The desire and ability

The team had the winning recipe.

"If you have great kids who are great performers and you have a lot of them, then you're going to do well as a team," Harrell said.

And most importantly, he said, the students must have the desire and ability to excel, as well as experience performing.

"At the end of the year I don't hide my desire to do well at the state tournament," Harrell said. "But we don't lose the fact that it's individuals doing well for themselves first. That will eventually let the team total do well for itself."

Schools are allowed to send 16 entries to the state competition. Winnowing down team's total 42 qualifying events took some tough decision-making. The goal was to try to select the 16 events most likely to do well at state.

Away from home

Coaching debate and forensics takes Harrell away from time at home, something he admits he misses.

"But it's great for the kids here," Harrell said. "It did good stuff for me as a student when I was in the activity."

In fact, Harrell's wife, Kathy, who teaches junior high social studies, can vouch that debate and forensics can bring the shyness out of students.

Sometimes she can predict which students -- often the more outgoing ones -- will succeed in Harrell's classes.

"And sometimes she'll see kids that will excel over here that she never would have imagined would have accomplished that, just because of their demeanor in the eighth grade," Harrell said.

Harrell said he spends so much time with the students over the course of four years that he doesn't notice them changing.

"It's sometimes hard for me to remember them when they started," Harrell said. "You just turn around and all of a sudden they've grown up and they've accomplished so much."

Harrell noted one senior, Andrew Becker.

"He's more like the rule," Harrell said. "The kid has been part of a state championship four different times -- three different debate championships that he was instrumental in and in forensics as sophomore he was on a second-place team and as a senior on a championship team. He's been to nationals three times and he's not the exception to the rule -- that's just what those kids do."

Target on their backs

Knowing the team can win does help to breed more wins, Harrell said. But that advantage can create an additional challenge -- no longer is Tonganoxie an anonymous school when the team heads to debate and forensics meets.

"In some respects you're a target for other schools in other programs," Harrell said.

And, he said, there are more kids doing debate and forensics in Kansas now than ever before.

When Harrell started coaching 14 years ago, the state had two divisions -- one for 6A schools and another for 5A, 4A, 3A, 2A and 1A. Now, each division has its own tournaments.

In his next life, someone like Harrell might like to be a press secretary or a professional speech writer.

"But those are pie in the sky positions," Harrell said.

"I have a lot of colleagues who when they get burned out and get tired of traveling every weekend and dealing with the hassles, they go to law school," Harrell said. "That might have been an option when I was 28, but not at 38. I don't know what I would do if I wasn't here."

Bloom where you're planted

At times, Harrell admits, he tires of working all day in a cramped windowless classroom affectionately known as "the cave." A larger room, one with a view and with more space, would be to his liking.

But he quickly acknowledges that his team is proof that it doesn't take a fancy classroom to succeed.

"I think what we do here is a pretty good example of striving for the excellence that is very attainable through hard work," Harrell said. "... I tell the kids, 'Bloom where you are planted.' Don't go looking for nicer facilities or things like that -- bloom where you are planted."

It helps, Harrell said, that he's long had the support of the administration and school board in allowing the team to travel and to participate in meets.

And it helps that the school district lets Harrell hire two assistant coaches -- Kelley Sivits, who is a former student of Harrell's, and Dave Mitchell. Sivits helps on the speech and drama side. Mitchell assists with debate.

"Those guys get on the bus every weekend," Harrell said. "They bring a lot of knowledge to the program."

But both will be leaving the THS program at the end of this year. Sivits is going to Colorado to study for a master's degree in fine arts, and Mitchell is graduating from Kansas University with a master's degree in public administration.

"I hope we can replace them," Harrell said. "But budget wise and things like that there may be extenuating circumstances. That was one of the intangibles I talked about. It doesn't show up on a balance sheet too well, but those guys make my job a lot easier and that's why things work around here as well as they do."

There's no way to put a price tag on this kind of support, Harrell said.

"You can be surrounded by a lot of computers and a beautiful fancy room but if you don't have the support from your administration to build a program, then what's the point."

Seniors in debate and forensics at Tonganoxie High School have an impressive win record:

Kelly Woelk

¢ In 2000, state novice debate competitor.

¢ In 2001, fourth, 2-Speaker 4A State Debate; NCFL debate national qualifier; 4A state oration champion; and 4A state speech and drama second-place team member.

¢ In 2002, third, Debate Coaches Invitational; 17th NCFL Debate Nationals; fourth, 2-Speaker 4A state debate; third, 4A state oration; and sixth, 4A state poetry.

¢ In 2003, sixth, Debate Coaches Invitational; NCFL Debate National qualifier; 2-Speaker 4A state champion; second, 4A state oration; and fourth, 4A state poetry.

Caleb Poterbin

¢ In 2000, state novice debate competitor.

¢ In 2001, fourth, 2-Speaker 4A State Debate; NCFL extemporaneous qualifier; and 4A state extemporaneous competitor.

¢ In 2002, third, Debate Coaches Invitational; 17th NCFL Debate Nationals; fourth, 2-Speaker 4A State Debate; and 4A state extemporaneous semifinalist.

¢ In 2003, sixth, Debate Coaches Invitational; NCFL debate national qualifier; 2-Speaker 4A state champion; and 4A state extemporaneous semifinalist.

Andrew Becker

¢ In 2000, fourth, state novice debate.

¢ In 2001, 4-Speaker 4A state debate champion; NCFL extemporaneous qualifier; 4A state extemporaneous competitor; and 4A state speech and drama second-place team member.

¢ In 2002, NCFL extemporaneous national qualifier; 4-Speaker 4A state debate champion; and 4A state extemporaneous semifinalist.

¢ In 2003, third, Debate Coaches Invitational; NCFL debate national qualifier; 2-speaker 4A state champion; fourth, 4A state extemporaneous; and 4A state speech and drama champion team member.

Megan Needham

¢ In 2000, fourth, state novice debate. In 2001, 4-speaker 4A state debate champion (alternate); 4A state informative semifinalist; and 4A state speech and drama second place team member.

¢ In 2002, 4-speaker 4A state debate champion; 4A state oration semifinalist; and 4A state informative semifinalist.

¢ 2003, 4-speaker 4A state champion; second, 4A state informative; 4A state oration semifinalist; and 4A state speech and drama champion team member.

John Wickey

¢ In 2000, state novice debate competitor.

¢ In 2002, 2-speaker state debate competitor and 4A state extemporaneous competitor.

In 2003, 4-speaker 4A state champion; NCFL extemporaneous national qualifier; fifth, 4A state extemporaneous; and 4A state speech and drama Champion team member.

Paul Reetz

¢ In 2001, NCFL congress national qualifier.

¢ In 2002, NCFL extemporaneous national qualifier; 4-speaker 4A state debate champion; and 4A state extemporaneous competitor.

¢ In 2003, third, Debate Coaches Invitational; NCFL debate national qualifier; 2-speaker 4A state champion; second, 4A state extemporaneous; and 4A state speech and drama champion team member.

Kristi Bishop

¢ In 2002, 4A state informative competitor.

¢ In 2003, NCFL oration national qualifier; 4A state oration semifinalist; 4A state informative competitor; and 4A state speech and drama champion team member.

Angela Pestock

¢ In 2000, 4A state poetry semifinalist and 4A state speech and drama third place team member.

¢ In 2001, 4A state prose semifinalist and 4A state speech and drama second place team member.

¢ In 2002, 4A state informative competitor.

¢ In 2003, fourth, 2-speaker 4A state debate; NCFL extemporaneous national qualifier; 4A state informative competitor; and 4A state speech and drama champion team member.

Jordan McCarty

In 2002, NCFL prose/poetry national qualifier; 2-speaker 4A state debate competitor; and 4A state prose competitor.

¢ In 2003, NCFL prose/poetry national qualifier; fourth, 2-speaker 4A state debate; 4A state prose competitor; and 4A state speech and drama champion team member.

Devin Hughey

¢ In 2002, 4A state duet competitor.

¢ In 2003, NCFL duo national qualifier; 4A state prose champion; and 4A state speech and drama champion team member.

Jeff Dennis

¢ In 2003, third, 4A state duet and 4A state speech and drama champion team member.

Janelle McCoy

¢ In 2002, 4A state duet competitor.

¢ In 2003, NCFL duo national qualifier.

John Bretthauer

¢ In 2002, state humorous solo qualifier.

¢ In 2003, State Humorous Solo qualifier.

Britian Stites

¢ In 2001, sixth, state Lincoln-Douglas debate and NCFL Lincoln-Douglas debate national qualifier.

¢ In 2002, sixth, state Lincoln-Douglas debate.

¢ In 2003, eighth, state Lincoln-Douglas debate; state extemporaneous qualifier; and NCFL Lincoln-Douglas debate national qualifier.

Brian Gravatt

¢ In 2000, state novice debate competitor.

¢ In 2001, third, state Lincoln-Douglas debate and NCFL Lincoln-Douglas debate national qualifier.

¢ In 2002, fourth, state Lincoln-Douglas debate; and NCFL Lincoln-Douglas debate national qualifier.

¢ In 2003, two-speaker 4A state debate competitor; sixth, state Lincoln-Douglas debate; and NCFL Lincoln-Douglas debate national qualifier.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.