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Walker Speech Team Returns with 3 Medalists: By Ben Offerman

The Walker Speech Team Returns With Three State Medalists

The 2018 Minnesota High School League speech season has finally come to a close. Punctuated by an awards ceremony last Saturday at Apple Valley High School, the top eight speakers in each of the 13 categories were awarded state medals. The competition lasted two days, with all double ‘AA’ schools competing on Friday, and all single ‘A’ schools competing on Saturday. The Walker Speech Team left Thursday afternoon with five competitors and one alternate. After observing competition on Friday, the team competed on Saturday and returned home with a pair of champions and another state medal.

Five Walker Talkers advanced out of sections and competed at the state tournament. Dylan Johnson, Rachael Kuhlman, Willow Damar, Ellie Hansen, and Emma Burpo all placed within the top three of the Section 8A tournament and advanced to state.

Attending as an alternate, Raven Wales traveled with the team to the state tournament. Raven is a senior this year and completed her season at the section tournament, placing just outside of the state competition. Raven joined speech as a freshman in the category of Informative Speaking. Raven improved each year she competed, and in her junior and senior years advanced to section finals. She finaled at several tournaments throughout the season and earned a championship medal at Hibbing.

Dylan Johnson, who began participating in speech as a seventh grader, attended the state tournament this year after placing third in Extemporaneous Reading at the section tournament. Each year Dylan has divided his time between wrestling and speech. This year, as a ninth grader, Dylan was able to advance out of sections and compete with the top 24 readers in the state. While he didn’t advance to the final round, Dylan gained valuable experience competing at the state level and plans to return next year with another run at state.

Rachael Kuhlman, a senior at WHA High School, also attended state this year after advancing out of sections in Creative Expression. This is Rachael’s second year in speech, and second year competing in the Creative Expression category. Rachael experienced a lot of success this season- earning medals at almost every tournament, including one championship. While Rachael did not advance at the state tournament, she did place 12th overall. This is no small accomplishment, and a great achievement with which to punctuate her senior year. This is Rachael’s final season with the team, however, she will continue to embrace her artistic talent by heading to the University of Minnesota, Duluth to pursue a degree in graphic design and marketing.

Willow Damar, a sophomore at WHA, has been competing in the speech program for four years. She began as an Extemporaneous Speaker as a seventh grader and then switched to Original Oratory. Since then, she has attended the state tournament twice. This year, Willow advanced to the final round and placed 7th overall, earning her first state medal in speech. Throughout the season, Willow did not limit her talents to Oratory. This year, she tackled the category of humor as well and finaled four times throughout the season. Willow will be returning again next year for another season of success.

Finally, Walker left the tournament with two state champions.  Seniors Ellie Hansen and Emma Burpo placed first in the category of Duo Interpretation-a poetic ending to their final year in speech. Both Ellie and Emma began the year in separate categories, slowly perfecting the combined performance, before eventually entering the subsection tournament as a duo. Both speakers are previous state medalists and will be continuing their season at the national speech tournament this summer.

Ellie Hansen joined speech as a seventh grader and has competed in multiple categories over the past six years, including: storytelling, creative, oratory, and duo. As a 10th grader, Ellie advanced to the state tournament and earned a medal in Creative. As a junior, Ellie returned to state in the category of Oratory and won her first state championship. This year, after qualifying for nationals in Oratory and Duo, Ellie decided to enter into the path towards state with her teammate in the category of Duo. The pairs’ Duo performance was successful all season- earning multiple first place medals. Even though the competition in Minnesota is over, Ellie still has two competitions before her speech season in complete. Ellie will be competing at the national Invitational Tournament of Champions (NITOC) and the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) Tournament this summer. Next year, Ellie plans to attend Columbia University in New York City.

Emma Burpo, the other half of the championship Duo, joined the Walker speech team as an eighth grader in the category of Prose. Emma experienced success in each year that she competed. As a sophomore she placed second at the state tournament in the category of Prose, and last year she placed fourth in the same category. Along with her state medals, Emma also qualified for the national tournament last summer and competed in Birmingham, Alabama. This year, Emma competed in Prose along with Duo for most of the season. In Prose, she earned seven championship medals. Joining her partner in duo, Emma will also be competing at NITOC and Nationals this summer. Emma leaves the team as a state champion and has plans to attend the University of Wisconsin, Lacrosse.

While the veteran Walker speakers led the team to a successful, final competition, a new crop of young speakers is forming a solid foundation for the WHA Speech Team. Thirteen seventh graders joined the team this year and competed throughout the season. In total, these speakers competed at 16 tournaments; in addition to varsity tournaments, Walker competed at five junior high tournaments as well. Even though these speakers were asked to compete during the week, in addition to the weekend, they stayed strong and finished the season with incredible growth in their ability.

With the season now complete, coaches and speakers can rest and reminisce about the season’s let-downs and victories. Speech is has one of the longest seasons of all the extra-curricular activities; it begins in mid-December and spans over three full months before coming to a close in mid-April. Speech is an activity of endurance as much as an activity of presentation ability. Between tournaments, practices, meetings, and schoolwork, speakers are put to the test and asked to spread their efforts over many activities. However, through the trails, whether speakers are awarded medals or not, the real rewards are the skills that the speakers obtain while practicing and performing. These skills will prepare them for life outside of speech, and benefit them for all future endeavors.

The Walker-Hackensack-Akeley speech team is extremely thankful for those of you who made this season possible. Thank you to the parents, grandparents, guardians, community members, volunteers, and administrators who made each tournament and competition possible. And for those who provided unwavering support to the speakers, we owe you our deepest gratitude. The season is over, but we will see you all next year!


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