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MHS speech and debate thrives at nationals

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The Blue Jays speech and debate team added some late acclaim to the past academic year by posting one of the program’s strongest showings to date at the 2021 National Speech & Debate Association Tournament.

Continuing their winning ways, the team of Tyler Rockwood and Hudson Aikins reached the finals and finished third in the tournament in duo interpretation.

It caps off a record year, as the duo were also MSHSAA state champs in the category, also.

Several hundred students qualify for nationals –– akin to the top 1% –– and in the case of duo interpretation, the next cut is the top-60. Two more rounds advanced Rockwood and Aikins into the top-14, then the top-6, and finally the top-3.

“It’s a week-long tournament that creates a lot of intense waiting,” Jays head coach Greg Holtschneider said. “It was crazy, in the best way. For them to go that far...some schools may never had someone make the finals at Nationals, and that’s our third time in the last nine years –– six semifinalists or finalists [over that period] –– which is pretty cool.”

As juniors, the duo reached the top-60 before being eliminated, and sought this year to make the next cut, but broke through that ceiling.

The tournament was again held in a distanced format. Marshfield High School classrooms were set up as “studios” where kids performed live via streaming equipment the program rented.

“One thing these kids did well was innovative use to stage themselves,” Holtschneider said. “The camera has to stand still, but they can adjust where they stand from it, and they were creative. I think that made them more memorable, and with these judges watching so many pieces, you have to do something that makes you memorable.”

Levi Legan also performed well in the competition, advancing past the first elimination rounds in dramatic interpretation to reach the top-102. Despite being a novice at the event, he won a state championship in the category as well this past year.

“For him to make the break [at Nationals] was very impressive,” Holtschneider said. “His piece was unique. A lot of times in dramatic interpretation, pieces are, ‘These awful things happen to me,’ things like that. His was along the same lines, but the character was a person on death row stating his innocence and talking about the frustration of being in a place...his marriage fell apart, his mom died and he wasn’t allowed to go to her funeral. It was a powerful and touching piece, and one Levi has a wonderful singing voice, and he incorporated some of that within it, too, and that gave it a more powerful tone.”

Ashlynn Harrod and Bryna Norman also qualified and participated in dramatic interpretation and prose reading, respectively.

“As a coach, I’m so thankful to have kids who are talented that share it with me,” Holtschneider said. “We’re just proud of them. They’re carrying on a tradition that’s very difficult to stand up to. This was a challenging year. A lot of people stopped doing the activity due to COVID, and they just adapted, overcame, and became some of the best in the nation.”

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