The Columbia Falls speech and debate team will rely heavily on girl power as it looks to take both divisional and state Class A titles in the next few weeks.
The team will compete in the Northwest Class A divisional tournament in Whitefish on Jan. 25 and then the state Class A tournament in Hamilton the following weekend.
Columbia Falls is looking to win its ninth state title in a row and its 16th overall. It’s the most successful competitive activity in the school’s history.
This year’s squad features a host of talented female senior speakers and debaters. Alex Damon competes in memorized public address, where she recites a speech by Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teen who was shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking out on women’s rights and education in her country.
“Part of my speech I do with a Pakistani accent,” Damon explained, adding that she worked with a Pakistani man from Whitefish to get the inflection right.
Baylee Brinton’s expository speech is about the Speculator Mine disaster, a fire in a Butte copper mine that killed 168 miners and was the deadliest hard rock mining accident in U.S. history.
She got the idea when her family was cleaning out her great uncle Tom Kelly’s Butte home last year. Kelly was tragically killed when he was hit by a drunk driver as he walked home from a wake service.
Kelly had several history articles and books on the mine disaster. The speech is not only a tribute to the miners, it’s a remembrance of her 80-year-old uncle, who all the kids affectionately called “Uncle Ickey.”
Alexis Corbett pulls double duty behind the podium. The original oratory speech she wrote talks about the perils of being short — Corbett is only 5-feet, 1/4 inches tall.
She also does a humorous oral interpretation of the play “The 12 Dates of Christmas.” While performing the play, she’s supposed to be funny, but she has to take a more serious tone when delivering her speech, which isn’t always easy.
“My voice squeaks,” she notes with a smile.
On the debate side, the team looks to Allison Foust and Mary Gross. Both compete in Lincoln-Douglas debate, which focuses on moral arguments.
The two were partners in policy debate as freshmen, taking second at the state tournament. They had a bit of a falling out after that but are now best friends.
Foust won the Lincoln-Douglas debate state title last year, beating teammate Kaitlin Barnes. Foust’s goal is to make it to the finals again this year. Gross wants to be there as well, debating Foust.
“We would love that,” Foust said.
The team expects tough competition at state this year. Tournament host Hamilton recently edged the Wildcats in a tie-breaker at a meet in Bozeman.
But the girls are ready. They have their events memorized upside down and backwards, and they’ve all placed first at one meet or another this season.
“I definitely believe we can win again,” Gross said.
Speakers dominate at Bigfork
The Columbia Falls speech and debate team won the Bigfork meet by a wide margin on Jan. 18 to wrap up the regular season.
The Wildcats were led by first-place finishes from Alex Damon in memorized public address and Mark Hader in serious oral interpretation.
The Cats also did well in debate, with Mary Gross taking second in Lincoln-Douglas debate and Mara Barnes and Monique Schoech taking second in policy debate.
Twenty Class A, B and C schools competed in the meet. The Cats now head to the divisional tournament in Whitefish on Saturday.
“There is strong competition for places on the state team within our division, and we are focused on that right now,” coach Tara Norick said.
4th Maddie Mantell
8th Mikel Knutson
2nd Mara Barnes and Monique Schoech
3rd Meredith Stolte and Colter Norick
8th Anna Nicosia and Colin Norick
2nd Lexi Corbett
5th Casey Shea
1st Alex Damon
3rd Breanna Friar
4th Bailey Duke
8th Henry Chisholm
3rd Olivia Lewis-Peterson
4th Baylee Brinton
6th Samantha Gilk
2nd Lexi Corbett
3rd Mark Hader
5th Jenna Smith
2nd Bailey Duke
4th Breanna Friar