Debateful Eight: Speech Team finishes season strong with 8 nationals qualifiers

JACKSON HOLE, WYO — The Jackson Hole High School Speech and Debate Team found incredible success this past weekend at the National Speech and Debate Association District Tournament, held March 14-16, at Western Wyoming Community College and Green River High School. The meet was attended by 20 schools. The team is coached by Londe and Peggy Gagnon.

Seniors Samantha Smith and Leila Sandlin, juniors Warren Levy and Maeah Tuttle, sophomore Josh Hansen, and freshmen William Aepli, Virginia Girling, and Anna Revill will represent the Wind River NSDA District this June as they travel to Dallas to compete against the best in the nation at the National Tournament.

This is the 22nd consecutive year and the 32nd overall year the team has qualified students for the national meet. In order to earn a bid to compete at the National Tournament, students must place in the top two of their event at the district tournament.

Congressional Debate proved to be a Jackson strength as team captain, Smith along with Girling, Aepli and Hansen all qualified from their respective chambers. Junior Darcy Mueller and Tuttle earned second alternate status in their chambers while Revill earned first alternate status in hers.

Smith went on to qualify in Informative Speaking by placing first in a field of 27 competitors. She made it through six rounds of the event, placing 3rd or higher in each round to achieve her overall 1st place standing. A rule preventing qualifiers from competing in more than one event at Nationals forced Smith to choose Informative Speaking over Congressional Debate. This marks the second year Smith has qualified for the National Tournament.

Team captain Leila Sandlin earned her qualifying slot in Program Oral Interpretation. Last year Sandlin barely missing qualifying in the event based on tie breaker. Qualifying for the National Tournament this year caps off an incredible season she has had with her program on rape culture.

Like Smith, Levy double qualified for the National Tournament this year. Big Questions Debate, a fairly new event in the National Speech and Debate circuit asks competitors to explore both sides of whether or not humans are primarily driven by self-interest.

Levy battled it out through six rounds of debate before finishing in 1st. He also competed and qualified in Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking, an event that sees students researching and giving speeches on foreign current events with only 30 minutes to prepare. Levy has chosen to compete in Foreign Extemp over Big Questions Debate in Dallas this summer.

Tuttle qualified in Domestic Extemporaneous Speaking—an event similar to Foreign Extemp except the topics given are US focused. This is the third year Tuttle has qualified for the National event.

Revill was named as the first alternate in her Congressional Debate chamber. World Schools Debate is a debate event that combines “prepared” topics with “impromptu” topics, encouraging debaters to focus on specific issues rather than debate theory or procedural arguments. The process for selecting the World Schools team to represent Wyoming at the National Tournament is to pick the first alternates in each of the debate and congress events at the district tournament. Therefore, Revill’s 1st alternate status in Congressional Debate earned her the bid to Nationals in World Schools Debate.

The entire tournament is based on a double elimination model. With any placement below 3rd place considered a “down,” and two downs being the basis for elimination, a student must be at the top of their game in order to qualify.

A number of Jackson students achieved “Alternate” status in various events as well. Mueller earned alternate status in Domestic Extemp, while Aepli was the second alternate in Lincoln Douglas Debate. Junior River Gayton earned alternate status in Informative Speaking. Hansen and partner sophomore Preston Harmon were also alternates in Public Forum Debate.

The JHHS team as a whole, earned 5th overall, 3rd in the debate sweepstakes, 4th in the speech events sweepstakes, and 1st in the Congress sweepstakes at the tournament. In the Congress sweepstakes Jackson took home 1st.

The 2019 Dallas Nationals will be held June 16-21.  Top competitors from across the country will gather to determine the national champion in each forensic event. The National Speech and Debate Association is an honor society that “promotes interscholastic debate, oratory, and public speaking by encouraging a spirit of fellowship and by conferring upon deserving candidates a worthy badge of distinction.”

As Gagnon observed, “Our entire team represents the qualities the NSDA strives to achieve. All eight Jackson students will be exemplary ambassadors in Florida this summer.”

The Wind River District includes all Wyoming high schools west of I-25. At Western Wyoming Community College, competitors traveled from Casper Natrona and Kelly Walsh, Cody, Powell, Riverside, Rock Springs, Douglas, Laramie, Lander, Riverton, Lovell, Green River, Worland, Saratoga, Star Valley, Evanston, Greybull, Rawlins, Hot Springs and Jackson to compete.

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