An exemplary year for the Wauseon High School Speech and Debate Team continues.
On March 2-3, 14 members traveled to the Sylvania school district to compete at the Ohio Speech and Debate Association’s state finals, where 1,135 Speech and Debate competitors from 89 state school districts gathered. When the smoke cleared, WHS senior Colton Blanton and junior Christian Cantu were named state champions in the Duo Interpretation category.
They were among 44 duo teams from across the state competing in the category, and survived four preliminary rounds, a quarterfinal round, and a semifinal round before facing six other teams in the finals.
Colton and Christian bested their competitors with an interpretation from a dramatic piece involving at least two characters. They performed a 10-minute dialogue from the Jack Uhls screenplay for the 1999 film “Fight Club, which was based on the 1996 novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk.
The pair are the first WHS students to win an OSDA state championship since Speech and Debate Team member Brenden Kost was awarded in the competition’s International Extemp category in 2015. They were awarded plaques shaped like the State of Ohio.
In February, Colton and Christian qualified for the separate National Speech and Debate Association’s National Tournament, to be held June 18-22 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. They will join team member Alex Guerrero, a junior who qualified by placing in the top two in the Program Oral Interpretation category. His 10-minute piece, “The Abyss,” was a redeeming look at the phenomenon of teen suicide.
Winners at the national tournament are awarded various scholarships from sponsoring colleges and companies.
The WHS team also has represented itself the past five years at the National Catholic Forensic League Tournament, held Memorial Day weekend this year in Washington D.C.
“Some students enjoy that as the capstone of their experience,” said Dolores Muller, WHS Speech and Debate head coach and member of the OSDA Board of Directors. “It gives them a good idea of what the June tournament will be. It’s a good way to test the waters, and see how they stack up.”
Muller said members become adept at memorizing dialogue. But Colton and Christian received help from her assistant, Jason Robinson, in blocking the scene for their presentation, which required realistic fight sequences.
“This was a very physically demanding scene. The fact that they were able to do it for that many (competition) rounds – well, it required a lot of physical endurance,” she said. “I have seen many duo pieces over the years. I have never seen one that was this precise in its physical blocking.”
She said all of the WHS Speech and Debate Team’s 23 students attained a certain level of accomplishment, many with encouragement from the older members. “Clearly, this year we had a very talented group of seniors who had been with the program all four years. They became the motivating core of the team,” she said.
Finding good material to work with at the season’s start is the team members’ biggest hurdle. And members must continually tweak and adjust it to keep up with the field.
“The competitive level continues to rise as the season progresses, and they have to keep pace with that,” Muller said. “It demands of you to grow and change.”
She said the opportunity to continually improve is what keeps team members coming back each year. “That seems to really spur these students on,” she said.
What keeps Muller coming back as coach is the members’ enthusiasm. “You see these kids understand the human condition and what fires it. That’s what literature does in a very real and tangible way. It’s neat to see that light go on,” she said.
WHS Principal Keith Leatherman said the team members devote hours to their craft and display their dedication.
“Their hard work shows, and it’s a credit to the work they’re putting in,” he said.
Christian said he experienced butterflies going into the quarterfinals at the state meet. “There were a lot of good duos. I can say the final round was the toughest round I’ve gone into in my speech career,” he said.
A self-professed “jock who only did sports,” he said Speech and Debate presented new challenges, allowing him “the opportunity to expand who I am. It’s just something that I l0ve doing. I’m an outgoing person in the things that I do and I say.”
The experience has also allowed him to conquer his fear of public speaking and make new friends, he said.
Muller said the team is already preparing for next year’s competitions. “It sounds kind of relentless but in a way it’s kind of exhilarating. You can’t rest on your laurels.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.
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