EDWARDS — Imagine more than 300 teenagers speaking for two days and not one says “like,” or “ya know,” or “and then she was all,” or “um.”
Best of all, nothing and no one ever “sucks.” Ever.
You’re in the good company of local high school speech and debate teams. The teams from Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley high schools just returned from their state meet, where they racked up three state titles.
“It makes you a better communicator; everyone should do speech,” said Jordan Farr, a Battle Mountain senior who won a state title in the original oratory category.
Stuart McDonald and Larkin Smith won duet humor for Battle Mountain. They’re actually Vail Christian High School students who compete for Battle Mountain. Their toughest competition came from teammates Woody Brook and Maggie Shaffer, who took second in duet humor.
Eagle Valley senior Matthew Cirkovic won humor interpretation for his first state title.
Farr had to beat a two-time defending state champion and national qualifier to win her title.
“It’s my proudest moment of high school, hands down,” she said. “I was not expecting to win. When they called my name, I just fell down.”
She says she cried. A bunch of her teammates did, too, they were so happy for her.
And — this is the best part — she locked horns with a college professor who wrote her AP U.S. history textbook, but omitted the entire “space race.” She wrote the professor to point out the hole in his history, and he wrote back saying he concentrated on U.S. battles and moments of freedom. He dismissed the space race as unimportant compared to those.
From history to humor
College professors generally hate to be disagreed with, especially by students, but Farr spends her 10-minute original oratory presentation doing exactly that. Winning the space race was one of the pivotal pieces in winning the Cold War, she said. The judges in the state finals agreed with Farr, and now she’s a state champion.
Eagle Valley’s Cirkovic is a senior and has been with MaryAnn Stavney’s speech and debate program for four years. He finished fourth last year. This is his first state title.
His routine is about a girl who woke up one day with no arms. Cirkovic gives a nod to Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” which is noble of him. Except Kafka is completely humor-impaired, and Cirkovic is a very funny fellow.
Cirkovic’s protagonist, the girl who woke up with no arms, has a big essay due Friday, the same day as the championship soccer game — which wouldn’t be a big deal for a soccer player, but she’s the goalie. And besides, the spring dance is coming up, and she wants to go.
Cirkovic deftly deflects attention away from the girl and gets his laughs from her soccer coach, “kind of a rude buffoon,” and Heroin Joe, a homeless former scientist who was running experiments on narcotics and gets caught in their web.
She learns from Heroin Joe that it doesn’t matter if you have arms. It’s what’s inside you that counts.
She gets an A on the paper, wins the soccer title and goes to the spring dance. She’s resplendent in her gown and has a wonderful time.
It’s funny stuff. The problem is that the room they’re working at a speech meet is a little like performing in a mausoleum. No one laughs, which can make even the most confident comedians doubt their material.
“It was tough choosing the piece. I wasn’t sure it would be adequate,” Cirkovic said.
They refine their material all year — if it works. If it doesn’t, they dump it and do something else. Eagle Valley has had 11 meets this year, and Cirkovic won five of them.
Speech and debate is a judged event, and sometimes the material works with some judges, but not with others. The young woman Cirkovic competed against for first place in most meets didn’t make the final round.
“Everyone was blown away,” he said.
But on this day with these judges, he hit it out of the park.
“It’s a great feeling. I’ve worked hard all four years. The payoff is incredible. To be able to stand up there at state as one of the funniest kids, that’s an amazing feeling. I had such great support from my coaches and teammates,” Cirkovic said.
Stuart McDonald and Larkin Smith won duet humor with a hilarious routine about a guide to college that was completely wrong. There are roommates who want to cut your hair while you’re sleeping, the “Guys’ Guide to Twerking” … You get the idea, and so did the judges, because they won.
Battle Mountain seniors Woody Brook and Maggie Shaffer were second in duet humor and Brook was sixth in poetry. The rules say they have to use a published piece, but don’t say what they have to do with it. After much consternation, they chose “Horton Hears a Who” and made it their own with some nifty choreography and blocking. Somewhere Dr. Seuss is grinning.
Speech and debate
Debate is different from speech. Teams show up ready to debate both sides of an issue. They flip a coin before they start to determine who’s arguing pro and con. The judges say “go,” and they do.
It’s not stripes vs. plaids. At the state finals, they argued whether developmental assistance should be prioritized over military support in the Sahel region of Africa. Earlier this season, they battled over whether the NSA is violating the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution by collecting and storing data from the emails, phone calls and text messages of U.S. citizens.
They attack the arguments, not the arguers, and they show up locked and loaded. They can’t Google anything. They have to know their stuff. Then they hammer on each other by asking brutally insightful and penetrating questions.
Eagle Valley’s Maddi Dougherty and Gage Marple finished fourth at the state meet. Teammates Chantal Willoughby and Kenna Kurronen were fifth. Battle Mountain’s Jack Dorfman and Morgan Gumber were eighth.
Trying to reason with speech season
Speech and debate season officially starts in October with Battle Mountain’s home meet, but the kids start putting together material in September. The state finals are in late January.
If they finish well there, they go to national qualifier in March. The nationals are in June after graduation, this year in Overland Park, Kan.
Their coaches love this stuff and these kids, says Battle Mountain coach Diane Wagener. On the other hand, they get to spend entire weekends with a few dozen teenagers in Limon and Brush.
In the state finals, speech competitors must advance through three rounds to make the finals. The top six then get to do it one more time. In the finals, everyone starts fresh, and if it works like it’s supposed to, the three judges haven’t seen their material before.
Debate is bracketed. The top eight make the finals, and it’s based on power matching. That’s wins, losses and strength of opposition.
“It helps you understand that whatever you say, say it with confidence,” said Battle Mountain’s Brook.
Some of the kids wear sweatshirts that say, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will make us champions.”
And so they shall.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.