SMFHS Speech and Debate places second in Akron district tournament

Kent Weeklies
Meghan Huelsman
Allie Vale and Natalie Pigman
Cherylle Dave

The SMFHS Speech and Debate team entered its postseason competition with an impressive second-place team finish at the Akron District Tournament. Falling second only to Wooster – which had won several district championships prior to last season – the Bulldogs edged out Wadsworth, Highland, Revere and Our Lady of the Elms, which made up the remainder of the top six.

The team is under the direction of first-year head coaches Jimmy and Shelby Miller, who collaborate closely with adviser Ryan Hinman and assistant coaches Tony Erhardt, Suzanne Theisen, Cody Stanley and Madi Light.

“The students worked unbelievably hard, to a point where I honestly couldn’t be prouder,” Jimmy Miller said. “The coaches who spent all that time to work with their students should be commended, too, because without them, the students wouldn’t have those opportunities to work so hard this year.”

In all, the team qualified two Public Forum debate teams, two Duo Interpretation teams, two Humorous Interp students, two Dramatic Interp students, two POI students and one competitor each in Declamation, United States Extemp Speaking and Lincoln-Douglas Debate.

Among that bunch was a pair of seniors Emily Keyser and Cherylle Dave, who are both in the Program Oral Interpretation category and who both qualified. Keyser and Dave were both qualifiers in the same category last season.

“Any time you return two seniors who qualified to the state tournament the previous year, you have high expectations for them,” Jimmy Miller said. “Emily and Cherylle met those expectations all season long. It was like having a 1-A and 1-B punch, only they swapped roles on any given week.”

The team also qualified sophomore Nolan Miller and junior Connor Powers in Humorous Interpretation, plus sophomore Jason Folk and senior Meghan Huelsman in Dramatic Interpretation.

“As sophomores, both Nolan and Jason showed a great work ethic and proved they belonged with the best,” Shelby Miller said. “Meghan and Connor are upperclassmen and demonstrated strong leadership skills while also crushing it in their events.”

In Duo Interpretation, freshmen Lauren Garfield and Penelope Covey qualified alongside the senior tandem of Bella Perrotta and Brian Friedt.

“It’s rare that we have two freshmen team up together and qualify in this category. For Lauren and Penny to do that, plus for Brian to come in as a novice and still qualify alongside Bella – it’s incredibly impressive,” Jimmy Miller said. “Duo’s tough because it takes trust and collaboration, and in a COVID-19 year, teamwork events are particularly tricky. They never let that become a hindrance.”

In debate, the team also qualified the Public Forum teams of Natalie Pigman (sophomore) and Allie Vale (senior), plus Jaron Droder and Jacob Strang (both juniors).

“I am immensely proud of our four state qualifiers in Public Forum debate,” Erhardt said. “This year has been challenging to a virtual format but these students’ passion, dedication and commitment never wavered.”

The team also qualified senior Andy Jesson in Lincoln-Douglas debate, and four Congressional debaters were later named to the team’s state qualifiers list: Junior Elias Vara Maurice, sophomores Nathan Marotta and Jacob Licate, and freshman Andrew Loznianu. Theisen, the team’s recently retired head coach, remained on the team to help work with these students.

“It is impressive the amount of research our Congress and LD debaters have been doing to be successful this year,” Theisen said. “They have been relentless in keeping up with current events and submitting ideas for a better social order.”

Junior Sarah Schmidt qualified in United States Extemporaneous Speaking, and sophomore Bidya Niroula qualified in Declamation.

“Sarah’s event is one that I consider to be among the most difficult, so her qualifying is no easy task, but we had all the confidence that she’d get it done,” Shelby Miller said. “Bidya made huge strides at the end of the year and worked hard to make sure she would qualify.”

The team competes March 4-6 at the Ohio Speech and Debate Association State Finals. To donate to help financially support the team in this endeavor and others, checks can be mailed to the SMFHS Speech and Debate team at 3227 Graham Road, Stow 44224.