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Jays speech and debate ending challenging year on high note

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Limited arguably as much as any other competition regulated by MSHSAA, speech and debate teams have had to cope with the hurdles of virtual events as much as anyone else.

Marshfield’s team, traditionally strong, hasn’t let this be a deterrent.

The Blue Jays had five events qualify for the state tournament, which was held over the past weekend, three of which advanced to the finals.

Two walked away as state champions. Levi Legan was a winner in Dramatic Interpretation, while Tyler Rockwood and Hudson Akins came away with the gold in Duo Interpretation.

Ashlynn Harrod also took third place in Storytelling.

"Making it to the finals is quite an accomplishment, but coming home with two state championships and having another finish in the top-three is a wonderful blessing," Marshfield coach Greg Holtschneider said. "Also, for our poetry (Mya Doty) to finish ninth as a freshman is an incredible feat as well. I'm proud of all of them and am thankful these students share their talents with me."

Aikins also qualified as a soloist for state in Humorous Interpretation and finished 11th place.

“Although I would have preferred our students to have the opportunity to compete live, like many other MSHSAA events have been able to do, the coaches that stepped up to help run the virtual tournament, especially Molly Beck, did a great job considering all of the challenges of a virtual tournament,” said Holtschneider.

All five of Marshfield's event qualifiers were district champions, but speaking Friday in the middle of the final round, Holtschneider didn't want to jinx anything. "You never know how it's going to go," he said. "The funny thing about speech and debate is, you just need to get to finals and that's when the game really starts. They take the top eight, and even if you're in, all the scores go back to zero when the final round starts. Eight can win state and first [at that point] can take eighth]."

Since Holtschneider arrived just after the turn of the century, Marshfield’s team has had 101 state qualifiers, and 39 district champions. The pair of event winners gives the Jays 10 state champs over that timeframe as well.

There have been frustrations in the slow return to normal for the activity, which had its state tournament cancelled last year due to the pandemic. This year, MSHSAA announced it had elected to keep the state tournament virtual around the start of the academic year, but Holtschneider questioned why that decision couldn't be adapted considering how the landscape has changed in regards to social distancing. He wrote a letter to MSHSAA several months ago voicing these concerns to no avail.

“I’m disappointed that MSHSAA did not spend more time trying to give our kids a live event in our changing world,” Holtschneider said. “If we’re able to have live sporting championships –– and I’m glad we do –– why could we not do the same with speech and debate? I think that further accentuates the divide between sporting and fine arts events.”

“The saddest thing is, because we have to do everything through recordings, the team doesn’t share the experience of being able to perform, and this group of seniors has so much to teach the younger kids that’s going to get lost in the pandemic,” he added. “I would say this group of seniors is the most talented group I’ve had since the year we won the national championship in 2012.”

Separate from MSHSAA, Rockwood became the most recent Blue Jay to receive the NSDA (National Speech & Debate Association) Academic All-American Award. It is determined by multiple criteria, including GPA and test scores.

“Tyler is a great kid,” Holtschneider said. “He came to us his sophomore year a quiet kid, hardly spoke in class, then performed for me and I was like ‘holy cow.’ This quiet kid was pretty bold with his performance. He’s qualified for the national tournament every year he’s been with us.”

On Rockwood and Aikins, partners every year, he added, “The two of them together are hilarious. They drive me crazy because they can walk in carrying one thing and leave three things behind when they leave, but crazy talented. Their sophomore year, the piece they qualified with I can’t stand, but they’re just so funny; people enjoy watching them.”

This year's national competition was set to be in Louisville –– in the past, the team has traveled to cities like Las Vegas, Dallas and Fort Lauderdale –– but will also be virtual.

"The positive out of that is that the kids will be able to see the other competitors [perform], which is something we haven't been able to do this year," Holtschneider said.

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