Speech stars from Eagle County Schools learning to stand and deliver
High school speech team seniors close successful careers
In this school year of firsts, local high schools qualified a record number of competitors for the speech and debate nationals.
Battle Mountain High School qualified five total students, four of them seniors, for nationals. Eagle Valley High Schools qualified three students for nationals on the heels of another state title.
The thing about that is this: Slam dunking is a perishable skill. If you’re eloquent and intelligent, you’re eloquent and intelligent forever.
We are ‘extended’ family
Speech and debaters learn all the great life stuff you’re supposed to learn from competition — how to win and lose with grace, how to critique your own performance, how to pick yourself up when you stumble and fall — and how to do it together.
“The EVHS speech team is a family,” said Kathleen Uhnavy, the team’s coach. “We have laughed together, cried together, gone through loss together, and grown together. I have gotten to watch these kids grow up the past four years and in a way they feel a little like my own kids. They have grown into incredible young adults who have voice, passion, and vision.”
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Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley bridge the rivalry that sometimes creates an upvalley/downvalley chasm, Battle Mountain Speech and Debate Coach Diane Wagener said.
“Because we travel together, our Battle Mountain ‘family’ is extended to include our Eagle Valley ‘family,’” Wagener said.
The rivalry is real. Sometimes Eagle Valley dominates, sometimes Battle Mountain does. But aside from hearing their own names called during awards ceremonies, they’d rather hear their in-valley rivals.
“We’d rather hear ‘Eagle Valley’ in the top spot than Summit, or Rocky or Cherry Creek!” Wagener said.
Meets are often on the Front Range and start at 7:30 a.m. That means Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain share a bus on the ride down, leaving at 3:30 a.m. They arrive to see the Front Rangers already attired in suits, already hammering away at laptops and practicing. They stroll in bleary-eyed from the trip, wearing pajamas and looking for a restroom to change clothes.
“When we win in that arena it’s especially gratifying for the kids and shows them that those bigger schools of 5,000 kids and eight different coaches aren’t any smarter or creative or talented than they are!” Wagener said.
World of skills
This year’s national qualifiers excel in very different events.
Eagle Valley’s Jake Papadopoulos and Riley Dudley qualified in Public Forum Debate. They’ll argue whether or not charter schools are beneficial to U.S. education.
Eagle Valley teammate Saroja Manickam qualified in Original Oratory.
Battle Mountain’s Tom Allen and his partner Izzy Shedd, a sophomore, qualified in Duo Interpretation. They’ll present a finely-tuned performance in which they interpret and choreograph a 10-minute scene from a play or a book.
Anna Parham is representing Battle Mountain in Congressional Debate. About 20 competitors from all over the country will go into a room, a Zoom room this year, and conduct sessions of Congress and argue bills.
Beckett Hyde will compete in Extemporaneous Speaking for Battle Mountain. A half hour before they start, competitors are handed a topic to prepare a 10-minute speech, either supporting or refuting the topic. They don’t know which until their round begins.
Battle Mountain’s Hannah Nelson is a three-time national qualifier. This year she qualified for World Schools Debate in which teams of five competitors from multiple schools around a geographic region of the country work together to present arguments for or against world issue topics.
Family is forever
Like almost everything else this school year, the National Speech and Debate Tournament will look different when it’s held in June. It will move online for the first time since it launched in 1931. This year’s nationals were supposed to be in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and host hundreds of students. Instead, the nationals will be online.
Uhnavy’s and Wagener’s speech team members will graduate and move on to their next adventure. It can be emotional for teachers and coaches after being so close for so long.
“I will dearly miss them,” Uhnavy said. “I can’t thank them enough for all of their hard work and dedication to the program the past four years. They have really made the program into something special and they won’t be forgotten. They leave an awesome legacy behind them.”