Eagle Valley High School takes home first-ever overall team award at state speech and debate tournament

Both Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain teams swept up at the 2023 state tournament

Eagle Valley High School's Speech and Debate team took home the overall team award at the 2023 state tournament. This is the first year CHSSA has given team awards.
Courtesy Photo

In January, the speech and debate teams from both Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain High School took home a number of state championships and awards at the statewide 3A speech and debate tournament.

Across numerous categories, students from both high schools took home five state championships as well as 19 awards between second place and sixth place, continuing a long-standing tradition of the local schools performing well in the state tournament.

Plus, both teams ranked highly in the new team overall sweepstakes. According to Eagle Valley’s head coach Katie Uhnavy, this is the first year Colorado High School Activities Association has awarded team awards for best overall as well as best overall in speech and best overall in debate.

Eagle Valley High School took home the first-ever overall sweepstakes, additionally taking first place in the debate sweepstakes and third in the speech sweepstakes. These team awards, Uhnavy said mean a “great deal.”

“Usually, State titles in speech and debate are awarded by individual event and student — or a pair of two students depending on the event — and while those titles are an amazing accomplishment, winning an award that every single team member contributed to makes it all the better,” Uhnavy said. “They did it as a team, and it took every single person’s scores, ranks and wins to earn it.”

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Battle Mountain also ranked in the overall team awards, taking home fourth in the overall team award and third in the debate team sweepstakes.

While the season is far from over as students prepare for qualifying tournaments for the National Speech and Debate tournament in June, the teams are reflecting back on a season full of passion, dedication, growth and laughter.

Starting from the top

This year, coaches from both the Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain teams said that the team leadership from their students was a driving force behind their many successes this year.

Uhnavy called Eagle Valley’s team of captains a “force to be reckoned with.”

“Six of the captains are seniors who have been on the team for four years, and our seventh captain is a junior who has been on the team for three years. Their investment in the program, in themselves, and in their teammates is a huge part of why this program has been so successful this year,” she said.

Battle Mountain, on the other hand, had a relatively young team, said Diane Wagner, who has coached speech and debate at Battle Mountain for 12 years.

“We have a really young crew this year, with only one senior on our team, but we still had more than half of our competitors break into the top six (final round) in their event,” Wagner said. “There’s a great balance among this group of students, and we have some really strong juniors and sophomores who will become the leaders of the team next year.”

With this strong team, Wagner said Battle Mountain’s season so far has been fun and successful.

“We started the year with a Team Sweepstakes in the first competition that was limited to only novice competitors, which speaks to the strength of our new team members,” Wagner said. “Those same kids have continued to perform well throughout the season. Our season has been filled with learning and laughs, which is the way it should be.”

A team event

Battle Mountain High School’s 2023 Speech and Debate team took home a state title and numerous individual and team awards at the annual Colorado state tournament.
Courtesy Photo

This year, the focus on the team was emphasized with the new sweepstakes awards, but for the competitors on the speech and debate teams, this has always been a part of the equation.

“We had many high-placing competitors from the team, but this (team sweepstakes) award shows that it’s not always about the individual,” said Ben Vito, a sophomore on the Eagle Valley team. “As much as we cherish our state champions, it’s also great to appreciate every competitor who helped toward reaching this achievement.”

For Vito, being on the team opened the door to connecting with other students from the school.

“If I had never joined this team, I wouldn’t have had so many great conversations with the team captains nor so many enjoyable memories,” Vito said. “Whether it’s the overnight trips, team dinners, or the bus rides, the people who participate, and especially those who lead the team are people I am proud to call friends.”

Phoenix Wellbaum, a sophomore at Battle Mountain, said that while the competition aspect of speech and debate is great, “the people are really what makes the team.”

“There is such a sense of community and support around you at all times on this team and that makes it worth doing,” they said. “This team works so incredibly hard and cares so much about what we do, all while supporting one another and lifting people up.”

Alvaro Marin Garcia, a junior and captain on the Eagle Valley team, said that this “family aspect” of the team makes the collective effort and title that much better.

No matter how different speech kids are from debate kids or from interpretation kids, we are all on each other’s side, and it makes it so wonderful to be part of a team that supports you, laughs with you, and celebrates with you every step of the way,” he said. “It is often easy to remember the individuals who have won, but to celebrate as a team and know that we all collectively contribute to a larger, shared success that is ultimately celebrated makes it much more impactful.” 

Ultimately, it’s the dedication and love for the program from every student that was the driving force behind Eagle Valley’s wins this year, Uhnavy said.

“No team is successful because of one or two people. It takes each of their time, dedication, and love for what they do,” she said. “Their energy and competitiveness are contagious. They push each other to be the very best at what they do. When they falter they also take the time to build each other up. The students on this team make it successful day in and out.”

Tackling big issues

Speech and debate is a school activity that helps students build critical skill sets and tackle real issues that are facing our country and world.

“The amount I learn from this bunch is incredible. I get to be a part of their passions and interests all year long” Uhnavy said. “Even when I get to sit back and simply listen to their discussion surrounding a debate topic, or watch them cut and block a piece, I’m just learning so much.”

This year, Uhnavy said that the students tackled issues and topics like migration and border laws, the Artemis Accords, handwriting, mental health and bullying, alcoholism, misogyny and the music industry and more.

“These kids have legitimate concerns and strong voices, and it’s always cool to see just what they are into,” she said.

For Marin Garcia, this is one of the reasons he joined the team in the first place.  

“I decided to participate in speech and debate because I am interested in a political or legal field one day, and I was also interested in participating in informed, educated discussions about serious and current topics,” he said. “I wanted to learn to be a public speaker that could articulate his ideas and have words resonate with people and inspire action.”

Wellbaum said that while they initially joined because of their parents, they stuck around for this reason.

“I ultimately decided to stay because of the opportunity to express my opinion on relevant topics,” Wellbaum said. “I’m really looking forward to getting better in all of our respective areas.”

This continual opportunity to challenge themselves, improve and grow, is one of the reasons many students love speech and debate. Gavin Doan, a senior and captain at Eagle Valley said “getting to improve week after week is addictive.”

“I love the journey to improve,” he added.

There’s also a creative and performative aspect to speech and debate that draws some students in. Calvin Parrish, a team captain at Battle Mountain, said he joined because he “saw another chance to do another type of performance.”

“I love competing and getting to hang out with my team. I love performing and getting to embody the characters I make in my piece, and I love getting to watch other people’s pieces as well,” he said. “I also love getting to hang out with the people on my team at strange hours, we have to get up pretty early to travel for our meets, so it’s fun to get closer to people while extremely sleep deprived.” 

Ultimately, it’s an activity that takes dedication, as they have to spend many evenings and weekends writing, researching and acting, Uhnavy said.

“They really put themselves out there, and I believe what they do on the team will be skills that transfer to other areas of their lives now and will help them find success in the future,” Uhnavy added.

All of these reasons to compete and participate in this activity speak to the “special kind of individual” that chooses speech and debate, Wagner said.

“They are a uniquely brave and creative crew who learn to take criticism from a variety of judges throughout the season in an effort to continue to perfect their performances. Not many people are wired to debate and perform in a structured environment like speech and debate,” Wagner said.

“These kids have to perfect the skills of listening to others and incorporating what they learn or hear from their competitors and judges in a productive way. Skillfully counter-arguing what a competitor brings to the table or outshining others in a 10-minute speech or performance is no easy task. These kids thrive on that challenge,” she added.

And while there’s a natural rivalry between the two local teams, there’s also a sense of camaraderie.

“We spend most of the year traveling on a shared bus with our friends but very significant competitors at Eagle Valley High School. Eagle Valley has had an amazing year and it would be easy for our kids to get jealous or resentful, but they’ve been gracious and supportive and proud of their friends from down valley, Wagner said.

Right now, the season is far from over for both teams, as they prepare for a national’s qualifying tournament in Grand Junction on March 11 and then the national tournament in Phoenix in June.

“It’s a rivalry for sure, but there is a great amount of respect that these kids have for one another that trumps the usual rivalry behaviors. A good performance is a good performance, and that’s what matters most to these competitors,” Wagner said. “Well, that and that the win stays on the bus with the Eagle County crew.”

How the locals ranked


2023 Colorado 3A speech and debate tournament results (Jan. 27 to 28, 2023)

Team Awards

  • Eagle Valley: First Place in the overall team sweepstakes
  • Eagle Valley: First Place in the Debate team sweepstakes
  • Eagle Valley: Third Place in the Speech team sweepstakes
  • Battle Mountain: Fourth Place in the overall team sweepstakes
  • Battle Mountain: Third place in the Debate team sweepstakes

Individual Awards

  • Gavin Doan, Eagle Valley: First place in Humorous Interpretation and second place in Impromptu Speaking
  • Sam Maule, Eagle Valley: First place in Poetry Interpretation
  • Sierra Hill and Justin Vargas, Eagle Valley: First place in Public Forum Debate
  • Molly McAdams, Eagle Valley: First place in Congressional Debate
  • Bodie LaCross and Silas Heaphy, Battle Mountain: First place in Duo Interpretation
  • Phoenix Wellbaum, Battle Mountain: Second place in Original Oratory
    Alvaro Marin Garcia, Eagle Valley: Second place in Extemporaneous Debate
  • Audrey Tatro and Ben Vito, Eagle Valley: Second place in Public Forum Debate
  • Kai Thayer, Battle Mountain: Third place in Impromptu Speaking and Fourth place in Congressional Debate
  • Cal Parrish, Battle Mountain: Third place in Program Oral Interpretation
  • Bodie LaCross, Battle Mountain: Third place in Creative Storytelling
  • Owen Murray, Eagle Valley: Third place in Informative Speaking
  • Sean Asselin, Eagle Valley: Third place in Congressional Debate and a semi-finalist in Lincoln Douglas Debate
  • Gabby Gallegos, Battle Mountain: Fifth place in Informative Speaking
  • Chase Williams, Battle Mountain: Fifth place in Creative Storytelling
  • Emma Ross, Eagle Valley: Fifth place in Poetry Interpretation
  • Emma Ross and Savvy Rudin, Eagle Valley: Fifth place in Duo Interpretation
  • Kathryn Wilson, Battle Mountain: Sixth place in Informative Speaking and sixth place in Original Oratory
  • Nina Nemacanin, Battle Mountain: Sixth place in Extemporaneous Debate
  • Reese McCormick and Sierra Hill, Eagle Valley: Sixth place in Duo Interpretation
  • Savvy Rudin, Eagle Valley: Sixth place in Creative Storytelling
  • Sadie Hoiland, Eagle Valley: Semi-finalist in Value Debate
  • Hailey Gifford, Eagle Valley: Semi-finalist in Lincoln Douglas Debate
  • Molly McAdams, Eagle Valley: Semi-finalist in Lincoln Douglas Debate
  • Eva Isaacs, Battle Mountain: Semi-finalist in Lincoln Douglas Debate
  • Phoenix Wellbaum and Lisa Overy, Battle Mountain: Semi-finalists in Public Forum Debate

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