The Columbia Falls High School speech and debate team is aiming to nail its ninth consecutive Class A state championship at the state tournament today and Saturday in Hamilton.
Is there pressure to win it all? Not exactly, according to Columbia Falls head coach Tara Norick.
“Not pressure to repeat, but this is a strong team that has worked hard this season and will compete to the best of their ability,” Norick said. “There is a lot of competition in Class A this year, but we are ready to meet them head-on and see how the points fall.”
Whitefish speakers and debaters also will make the trip to Hamilton to compete in the Class A finale.
Norick’s goals at state are simple: “To continue to work well as a team, to believe in ourselves and the messages we are sharing, and of course bring home some hardware.”
To bring home that hardware, Columbia Falls will rely on balance.
“We are a balanced team with strong competitors in every event both in speech and debate,” Norick said. “The balance gives us an advantage over teams that specialize in certain events.”
Norick has a long list of top contenders at state, including returning state champions Allison Foust in Lincoln-Douglas Debate and Mason Gedlaman in Humorous Oral Interpretation and Impromptu.
“This is a wonderful group of students that we are proud to have worked with as coaches. The eight seniors on the team bring strength and maturity along with their talent,” Norick said.
Gedlaman, a senior, is ready to give his all at what will be his final state competition.
“Success is wonderful, but it feels better that we have an opportunity to share our messages,” Gedlaman said.
Seniors Mary Gross and Foust, who are competing in Lincoln-Douglas Debate, have been doing a ton of research to gear up for state.
Gross is ready to make a mark at her final state competition.
“As a senior who has been part of a state championship team my entire speech and debate experience, I would love nothing more than to bring home another trophy,” Gross said.
Gedlaman and Gross agreed that just because they have so many consecutive wins doesn’t mean they are resting on their laurels.
“Everyone takes this tournament seriously, and we work as a team — even more so than usual,” Gross said.
Whitefish head coach Gary Carmichael surmises the Bulldogs’ strength will be in Original Oratory, Expository Speaking, Extemporaneous Speaking and Debate.
“These Bulldogs have been consistently placing at meets around the state throughout the year and should make a good showing in Hamilton,” Carmichael said.
The Whitefish competitors will hold their own against the best with the hard work they have put in, according to Carmichael.
“Sloan Ellis has such natural talent in Oratory and Impromptu as does Sam Benkelman in Expository that either could make a serious run at a state championship,” Carmichael said.
Another serious state contender should be senior Elsa Dodd who was a state champion in Original Oratory as a freshman.
Sophomore Abigail Belcher, competing in Extemporaneous Speaking, has two goals: “To break semis in HOI [Humorous Oral Interpretation] and finals in Extemp,” Belcher said.
For new competitors, such as freshman Makkie Haller, who is competing in Extemporaneous Speaking and Humorous Oral Interpretation, her goal is simply to do her best.