Peninsula High debate team puts on prestigious performances

December 4, 2013 

The Peninsula High School speech and debate team had three of its four teams reach the semifinals last month during the Whitman College Invitational.

Coach Sheri Ahlheim shared the news with me in an email. Her team joined the Gig Harbor High team Nov. 7-9 at Whitman College, which hosted more than 500 students from 38 schools and three states, plus British Columbia, Ahlheim said.

“We took four public forum debate teams to Whitman, and three of the four made it to semifinals,” Ahlheim wrote. “One team won first! We also had a sixth-place finish in expository speaking and earned top 10 speaker honors. The PHS kids really made me proud.”

The team has members from all four high school grade levels.

“Whitman was an amazing experience,” freshman Anna Christina Marshall said. “ ... to not only bond with our teammates but with people from other schools all across the state ... to debate with these talented kids who might be sworn enemies in a round was awesome. Out of the rounds, we (got to know) so many brilliant kids.”

Laurel Schley said going to the event as a freshman was an “amazing opportunity.”

“I not only improved but got to know people on our team,” Schley said. “Being at a tournament for three days could have been painful, but everyone is so much fun to be around. I left with so much more experience — and a few inside jokes.”

Katie Poplin said it was an eye-opening moment.

“Our team really got a chance to bond and show what we’re made of,” she said. “I was very impressed with everyone’s performance and couldn’t be more proud of our newcomers. Everyone tried their best, and that’s what really counted.”

Dylan Jensen said their performance “really showed how awesome we are.”

“I got to know my peers more, which was fun and scary at the same time,” Jensen said. “The tournament was extraordinary! We met and debated people from all over the Northwest and bonded with our friends. I feel very privileged to have been able to attend such a professional event. I hope future kids will continue to be in speech and debate; it is such an amazing club.”

Gig Harbor placed first in the Sweepstakes category after several students placed well in individual events. I plan to follow up with the Gig Harbor High team in the next few weeks.

Audrey Gainey and Katie Poplin of the Peninsula High School public forum team earned an excellence award for their 4-2 record during the Gig Harbor High School Invitational on Oct. 25-26.

At the Whitman Invitational, public forum debaters Dylan Jensen and Alec Dionne took first place (JV); Poplin, Gainey, Schley and Anna Marshall tied for third (novice). Dionne also earned a third Speaker Award (JV), Jensen an eighth Speaker (JV), Schley a seventh Speaker (novice) and Poplin an eighth Speaker (novice). Colton Chavez placed sixth in expository speaking.

During the University of Washington-Tacoma Invitational on Nov. 15-16, Schley and Marshall went undefeated and earned a superior award. Poplin and Gainey went 4-1 and also won a superior award.

In endividual events, JC Romero placed second and earned a superior award for his dramatic interpretation; Gainey placed third and won a superior award in impromptu speaking, and Schley placed third and earned an excellence award, also in impromptu speaking.

At the Tahoma High School Golden Bear Classic on Nov. 22-23, Jensen and Dionne placed third and won a semifinal award, and Schley and Marshall earned a quarterfinal award for their eighth-place finish. JC Romero placed sixth for his dramatic interpretation, and Marshall placed third in impromptu speaking.

Three tournaments will be held this month at Puyallup, Auburn and Gig Harbor. Three more will be held in January at the University of Puget Sound, Federal Way and UW-Tacoma. National Forensic League competitions are expected in March.

“With the season just beginning, we are looking forward to more victories, more trophies!” Ahlheim said.

Go for it! You make us proud!

Hugh McMillan is a longtime freelance writer for The Peninsula Gateway. He can be reached at 253-884-3319 or by email at hmcmnp1000@

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