By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Briar White’s heart pounded in his chest as he clasped the hands of several classmates and Booker T. Washington High School was announced as the second-place finisher.
White said he was elated to hear second place announced because he knew what would follow: Norman High’s Speech and Debate Team clinched the 2014 6A State Speech and Debate Champion title.
“It felt so good,” White said. “Year after year, since I was a freshman, we would barely get beat out for the win. Finally, it was our turn.”
To make it to a state championship, Norman students compete in qualifying tournaments, where they usually have to place in the top three to move on to a regional tournament. This year, Norman took 31 entries to state and had 15 event finalists. Students competed in acting, speaking and debate contests such as dramatic duet, monologue and prose interpretation.
Kasey Harrison, a competitive acting teacher, said by participating in competitions, his students learn a variety of skills such as memorization and how to portray different characters.
“Overall, students become better communicators,” Harrison said.
Students are encouraged to select their own material, which usually means narrowing down a play or work of literature into a 6- to 10-minute performance.
“We find that they have a deeper connection if they select the work themselves,” said Amanda Jensen, acting and stagecraft teacher. “We will steer the kids if they need help, but it’s much more meaningful to watch the students grow as performers if they’ve autonomously worked on the selection themselves.
“The ultimate goal is to win, and we love winning, but speech and debate really introduces and engages students in literature like novels, memoirs and scripts.”
Kylie Anderson, NHS senior who plans to attend the University of Oklahoma and study drama, won three categories at state, including: monologue for “Handler” and “A Teenage Philosopher’s Defense to Missing Curfew”; dramatic duet with White for “Memphis The Musical”; and humorous duet with Issac Reynolds for “Courting 101.”
Four other Norman students were runners-up at the state competition, including: Nicky Halterman in extemporaneous speaking; Maddie Breedlove in dramatic interpretation; and White and Caleb Hennigan in humorous duet.
Anderson said she chose “Memphis The Musical” after seeing it with her mom in Oklahoma City and that besides winning, this year was special because she got to do a piece with one of her best friends.
“We (White and Anderson) have been best friends forever, but we never had the chance to do a competitive piece together. Finally, we did and we won,” Anderson said.
Ellen Melton, freshman, said speech and debate team has changed her life since entering high school. Melton made a chart and practiced her prose interpretation every day.
She said even though the team was losing several seniors, she was enthusiastic about the possibility of future championships.
“My confidence has skyrocketed. It really has been a game changer,” Melton said. “If you can be in front of a judge and get judged and critiqued, then you go from being a freshman with some confidence to a freshman that can do anything.”
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