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Speech and debate looks to run the table

by AVERY HOWE
Photographer | January 17, 2024 2:00 AM

No matter their event of choice — informative, policy debate, public forum or DUO interp to name a few — the Columbia Falls Speech and Debaters have one goal in mind for this season: defending their state title. 

This year’s team is large, right around 35 kids total with nine seniors. “We’re the biggest A team, so you have a lot of people to pull from, and then that also means that returning folks from last year’s team can help with new folks, it’s nice,” said senior Logan Peterson, who joined the team for the first time this year. “Everybody has a lot to learn, and it’s really eye-opening.”

The Speech and Debaters just brought home their eighth tournament win, completing an undefeated regular season. They will travel to the Western Divisional Tournament in Hamilton Saturday, Jan. 20, then host state Jan. 26-27. 

The kids credit their success to the relationships they have formed with each other, serving as each other’s coaches and mentors as well as friends. 

“I think when people think of a good speaker, they think actual speaking, but to be a good speaker you also have to be a good listener and that’s why I’ve had so many incredible conversations and made a lot of friends,” senior Ruby Davis said. Along with dressing in fancy suits, just having lunch together was listed as one of the seniors’ favorite parts of speech. 

Kynsleigh Gould added on to Davis’s point. “[It is] what makes this such a positive team to be a part of, because speech and debate kids are able to communicate their thoughts on a level that they essentially get graded on every weekend, and it mandates learning and fine-tuning a lot of communication skills, so I think our conversations are definitely interesting, but definitely a lot of fun.”

Despite being the upperclassmen, the seniors were quick to point out that a strict social hierarchy doesn’t exist on their team. There are no captains, everyone has their own thoughts to contribute. Even across events, they are able to help each other grow by offering feedback.

“It’s just people who are helping, and some people have more help to give just because they have more experience with it or are more comfortable with helping. But as sort of ‘team leaders,’ I think everybody needs each other,” Chris Daenzer said. 

“Without that rigid social structure, we’re more comfortable talking to each other and critiquing and listening,” Brin Schull added. 

The word ‘grow’ bounced around the room on repeat as the seniors spoke about their season, and now they’ve made it to the last two weeks, they are still pushing upward. 

“We really want to win this year, and we know we have to fight for it because we’re defending a title… it pushes us to work really hard,” Lucas Counts said. 

Coach Dawn Roe pointed out that her team was built of natural leaders. “They’re the kids that will give away their own prep time so that they can help a freshman who’s struggling, who just crashed and burned in their round. They will take that time because they know what it’s like. They have heart. And it’s that heart that carries the entire team,” she said. 

Columbia Falls Speech and Debate is excited to host the State Tournament Jan. 26-27, and the community is invited to attend the awards ceremony Saturday at 6:30 p.m. They are also still looking for judges, those interested can volunteer at https://bit.ly/3QBuQzy. 

As for defending their title, first-year speech and debater Ivy Salmon summed it up nicely, “The sense of team that we have, everyone’s very inviting, welcoming and very family-like… I think that really helps our winning streaks over the years. I think it stays strong because of that constant, everybody is involved in everything, everyone wants everyone to get better. Not only are you trying to win for yourself, but you’re trying to keep something going, alive.”