In a first, Mitchell High School to send pair of teams to National Speech and Debate Tournament

·4 min read

May 8—MITCHELL — The Mitchell High School oral interpretation and debate team are finishing the school year with a run of unprecedented success.

The team qualified two individuals and two teams for the 2023 National Speech and Debate Tournament, which will be held June 11-16 in Phoenix, Arizona. It will be a first for the program.

"It is a huge deal," said Madi Miller, debate and oral interpretation coach for Mitchell High School. "It's very difficult to qualify for the national tournament. Nothing is guaranteed. The fact that they qualified is a huge achievement."

The team qualified two individuals, Morgan Klinger and Serenity Hollins for the tournament. Klinger earned the trip on the congressional debate category, and Hollins qualified through her performance in program oral interpretation.

Miller said it was exciting to see Klinger, a sophomore in the program, qualified for the trip in March and earned a trip to the national competition with her performance.

"It's very exciting, especially as a younger team member to qualify so early in her career," Miller said. "It's a big accomplishment and we're happy to see it."

Hollins is a senior in the program and will wrap up her high school speech and debate efforts with the trip to Arizona. She qualified for the national tournament in February and it is the second time she's qualified as an individual for the event.

"She really deserves it. She works so hard and has such a passion for oral interp. I'm so glad she could end her oral interp career by qualifying," Miller said.

Hollins will not be able to attend the national tournament in June, and has vacated her position at the event to allow another student to take her place. Klinger also will not compete in her individual category. She will instead participate with one of the two Mitchell High School teams that will make the trip to Arizona.

In team categories, two teams are selected per state. In a first, both teams, called South Dakota Red and South Dakota Gold, will be made up of Mitchell High School students after Miller and students in the program submitted their application on a whim.

"They send out an all-call to schools in South Dakota who want to go, and I (told the students in her program) that we could throw our name into the ring and see what happens. And they ended up selecting Mitchell for both positions," Miller said. "So we're just flying by the seat of our pants."

South Dakota Red includes students Shawn Boehmer, Keatyn Wede, Alexis Korzan, Camryn Swanstrom and Sophie Parsons. South Dakota Gold will be made up of Klinger, Ashlyn Reynolds, Jordyn Wilson and Kennedy Lofgren.

Mitchell High School has never sent a single team to the competition, much less two, Miller said. It will be the teams' first time competing at that level and the first time Miller has coached at that level, so they reached out to a fellow speech and debate coach in North Dakota who had some experience in that realm.

"We're learning at the same time. We got in contact with a debate coach in North Dakota who is helping us prepare. We're forming an alliance so we can share notes and can practice together," Miller said.

The surprise qualification of the two Mitchell teams is a great way for the students to get some experience in competition outside the local and regional competitions they have taken part in all season. It's especially nice for students who may not have qualified for any individual competition.

"As much as they would love to go for their main events, they are thrilled that they get to be on a team with their friends," Miller said.

Last year was the first time several of the Mitchell High School team got a chance to travel for the national tournament, as COVID-19 caused organizers to move the event to an online format. The event lost some of its shine when it moved online, Miller said, but it was great to see first-timer students from Mitchell take part and have the thrill of competition reawakened in them.

These kinds of national events are a great experience for students who have worked hard all year long. The return to national competition last year gave the students a boost that they threw into their work and performances all year long this year, and Miller said she is excited to see these teams get their chance, as well.

"Just to see them and that spark ignite in them — to see that there are thousands of other students across the nation who compete in this and dedicate their time to it — it lights a spark in them and inspires them," Miller said. "That has carried us through the whole year, talking about the experience and exhilaration of competing at the national level."

Members of the public who wish to take in some of the performances from the Mitchell High School team can do so this Friday, May 12 at the Black Box Theater at Dakota Wesleyan University. The event serves as a showcase for the team members as well as a fundraiser for the program.

That event is expected to kick off at 6:30 p.m.