, Muskogee, OK

April 24, 2013

Speech, debate students shine at contest

— By Chesley Oxendine

Times Correspondent

The Fort Gibson High School Speech and Debate Team took home a state championship and several more awards during their stint at the State Tournament at Oklahoma University in Norman.

Junior Josh Daniel and sophomore Nicole Waltman won first place in Class 5A’s dramatic duet event, while sophomore Tanner Morton and freshman Hayden Hackworth placed seventh in the same event.

Morton also placed in his other two events, earning third place in dramatic interpretation and sixth place in a monologues. While he was excited for the awards, however, Morton says he hopes for more firsts next year.

“I didn’t win state champion, so I have to come back stronger next year, but it felt pretty good to take home three medals,” he said. “My ultimate goal is the trifecta, where you earn three big championships in one year.”

Participating in three events means he has his work cut out for him, Morton said, because each task requires substantial practice on its own.

“It was so much more work with every event you add on,” he said. “It was a lot more work than l had last year.”

However, all that work feeds into Morton’s passion — acting. The sophomore said he saw participating in three events as a test of his abilities.

“I want to be an actor with my life,” he said. “I took it as a challenge to see what I could do and how good I really was.”

That same passion made things easier on him when he stood in front of judges and performed his pieces, Morton said.

“Being on stage has definitely helped me a lot,” he said. “It’s helped me get more comfortable around people than I have been.”

For state champion and theatrical colleague Waltman, however, her dramatic duet with partner Daniel brought her out of her “comfort zone,” she said.

“It’s very different for me,” Waltman said. “I’m very passionate about acting and being onstage has always been like home for me, but being in speech and debate is so different.”

Dramatic duets are ten minute pieces that “usually revolve around something sad or tragic,” Waltman said, and don’t allow props — which meant she depended more on memorization alone.

“You normally use chairs, but we actually didn’t use chairs with our piece,” she said. “You have to rely on your memory a lot, even more so than onstage because there you have props and cues.”

Under those conditions, Waltman said winning was “awesome.”

“It’s a feeling you can’t really describe to someone who hasn’t felt it before, but it’s really exhilarating,” she said.  “I always have words, and I always have something to say, but when we won, I was struck speechless. It was so amazing.”

It was pretty amazing for their coach Melanie Wicks, as well — she felt a sense of accomplishment when her students won their accolades, she said.

“It felt very rewarding,” Wicks said. “As a teacher, I thrive when I see my kids succeed.”

However, seeing her students grow as they compete remains her favorite part of her job, she said.

“I love to see a student have a goal, then work diligently and to take all my and my assistant’s constructive criticism and use that to succeed,” Wicks said. “These kids are having opportunities they may never have again.”

Wicks said she credits assistant coach Beth Brannon with the speech and debate team’s achievements as well.

“She goes with me to all the tournaments, and I really couldn’t do it without her,” Wicks said.