Speech, debate team scores a national-qualifying performance

April 23, 2014 

Peninsula High School’s Speech and Debate team took top honors at a national-qualifying event at the University of Puget Sound last month.

Team coach and math teacher Sheri Ahlheim said, “As far as we can check — at least 30 years back — for the first time, PHS sent two debate teams to state and is sending a debate team to nationals.”

The meet, over two weekends, one for individual events and one for debate, involved about 500 students from across the state.

“In each individual event in which our team competed, there were about 50 entries,” Ahlheim said. “There were 32 public forum debate teams.”

PHS senior JC Romero took first place in dramatic interpretation. He acted out scenes from the book “The Yellow Birds” — a soldier’s experiences in Iraq. Audrey Gainey took 11th in impromptu speaking, which requires students to compose a speech on the spot after being presented with a topic. Alec Dionne and Dylan Jensen placed sixth in public forum debate.

Ahlheim explained, “Our district is regarded as one of the most competitive in the state. Team members Alec and Dylan joined a Puyallup team in winning the national berths. They will travel to Overland Park, Kansas, for the national meet June 15 to 20. At stake, aside from school history and pride, are thousands of dollars in scholarships.”

Team member Aaron Krueger said, “State was a great growing experience. We went up against very admirable teams with greatly varied skills and tactics and had to adapt to a wide array of different judges with different backgrounds, ages, and expectations. Debates were tough but fulfilling. I felt honored to be there among the Northwest’s best. The rest of my life I’ll remember challenges and lessons learned.”

Jensen and Dionne took sixth place in public forum debate. “Getting to state was one of the most stressing, challenging, and exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had, Jensen said. “Never did I think I’d be competing with people from all over the state. My partner and I did just that. We made it to quarterfinals with the support of our teammates. We hope to go to state again next year and I predict we’ll reign supreme!”

“It’s been Dylan’s and my goal to go to state,” Dione said. “It was amazing. Making nationals was unexpected but not unwelcome. We are excited and working hard to raise money for nationals.”

Romero said, “Competing at state was one of the most memorable, stressful, crazy, fun, long and amazing experiences of my high school career. I had the mind set of doing well and hopefully making it to finals but never thought I’d be state champion. I will never forget the lessons and friendships the tournament gave me.”

Audrey Gainey competed in both dramatic interpretation and impromptu. “Never would I have anticipated making it to state,” she said. “It was such a different atmosphere from other tournaments. Everyone was excited and proud to be there and nervous about the intense competition. Competing was fun, intense and a great learning experience.”

“Going to state as a freshman was incredible,” Anna Christina said. “I learned a ton. It was cool to meet and compete with the best of the best in the whole state. Having that under my belt will help me not only for the continuance of competing, but in life. I’ve learned to express myself effectively under short time restraints.”

To classmate Laurel Schley who competed in the impromptu category, “Having the opportunity to compete at state was an eye-opening experience. Everyone spends months aiming for state, putting in exhausting efforts. Making it is one of the most humbling and rewarding moments. It isn’t if you win or not, it’s about experience and the odds you overcome. The season is over, but you’ll see us competing at state. We have our eyes on the big trophy next year.”

“This year we’ve had a larger and more active team with more debate teams than ever, seven teams,” Ahlheim said. “There’s enough talent and depth that we will continue to grow and become even more competitive over the years.”

To help pay for the nationals, among other things, team members and supporters are selling $10 tickets for an Applebee’s pancake breakfast with all the trimmings from 8 to 10 a.m. May 17.

I just happen to have a bundle of the tickets and would be happy to get some into your hot little hands, folks. Just call 253-884-3319. Help our team grab national honors for our community.

“I am incredibly proud of this team,” Ahlheim said. “They work together and develop strategies, collect and share evidence, support each other. Leadership at all team levels inspires a belief that our future is in good hands.

“We are determined to get to Kansas City! I am so proud of them; even more because most will be back and more awesome next year!”

Go Hawks!

For further information or to help get our champions to the national competitions, contact coach Ahlheim at 253-530-4441 or by email at ahlheims@psd401.net.

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

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