The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

Chinook High hosted a regional speech, drama and debate meet


January 10, 2018

Participants at the recent speech, drama and debate meet hosted by Chinook High visit before heading to their individual performances. (l-r) Jase Pursley (in pantomime paint), Chinook, visits with Garrett Pederson from North Star and Hannah Fowles from Fort Benton. Some students say part of what they enjoy about competition is getting to meet students from other area high schools.

Montana's high school speech, drama and debate students are in the final stages of their winter competition season. With only two more weekends for competition before divisionals, students were honing their presentations anticipating divisionals and, for some, a chance to participate at the state level (this year at Huntley Project). Chinook High along with schools in Three Forks, Culbertson and Columbia Falls were hosting similar competitions on the same weekend.

Chinook High Drama and Speech Coach Bonnie Ortner was in charge of putting together the event held in Chinook. She said, "We had about 60 students from 10 high schools. The number of students at a meet would typically be 100+. This is the smallest competition I've ever been responsible for." Teams came from these area high schools: Malta; Harlem; Conrad; North Toole County (Sunburst); North Star (in Rudyard); Great Falls Central Catholic; Fort Benton; C-J-I (Conrad, Joplin, Inverness) and Chinook.

Some coaches at the Chinook meet said schools pick from one of several competitions for a number of reasons, everything from distance and time to travel to how many students they believe will be competing. One coach explained, "I wanted a small meet since my kids are just coming off the holiday break. They needed a little 'warmup' before jumping in to the final two weeks before divisionals."

Speech, drama and debate events are governed by a set of rules devised by the coaches in Montana and sanctioned by the Montana High School Association (MHSA). There are about 15 different events for competitors. Speech events, as the name implies, involve speaking, sometimes an original piece written by the student or a memorized speech once made by an historical figure. Debates can be one-on-one with only two individuals or with a team setting. Drama combines speaking with dramatic movement, interpretive costuming, gesturing and/or facial expressions that help present the tone and meaning of a piece.

While some students may compete in more than one event, the norm is for a student to do only one presentation. Each student presents at least twice before a different judge. The judges rate and score the performers. Students that achieve a certain place move on to the final round which is judged by three judges who each rate without consulting with each other. A student's final score is then a combination of points from the five judges that heard and saw their presentation. Blaine County was represented at this most recent meet by five performances by Chinook students and eight from Harlem High's students.

Judges vary from 'first-timers' to seasoned judges who participated in speech, drama or debate in high school (some in college as well) or were coaches at one time. Ortner holds a clinic a couple of nights before the actual meet to help new judges understand the process. Asked about the difficulty of coming up with a sufficient number of people to judge the events, CHS Coach Ortner said, "The community always steps up to help with this competition. I had more than enough judges, always a good position to be in."

I visited with a group of students hanging out in the auditorium between their assigned performances and asked, "Why do you participate in these meets?" Reasons varied but several said they didn't like sports so this program gave them an alternative way to participate in a school activity. One said, "I play football in the fall and run track in the spring. I don't like basketball so speech and drama gives me an activity for the winter." And more than one mentioned they liked getting to know some of the kids in their own school better (long bus trips and practices) and also enjoyed meeting kids from other schools. One explained, "When we go to these meets we often see the same students and soon get to know our competition."

At the end of the day, after the results are completed in the TAB room, the teams gather for the presentations. In addition to a certificate stating their ranking for their performance, the top student in each event received an "Oscar." Yes, a smaller version of but obviously a very well done knock off of the iconic movie award. Needless to say when each Oscar was presented it resulted in, well, "a lot of drama."

The "Journal" thanks the many locals who helped make the recent speech, drama and debate meet a success. Likewise, thanks to the kids, coaches and parents who did their part to make the event a success.


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