Jackson Hole High School’s speech and debate team is undefeated this season.
Sisters Natalie and Gretchen Palmquist of Jackson Hole High School perform a comedy duet, “The Winning Number,” about two elderly women obsessed with bingo Friday during the Star Valley Invitational Speech Meet. The Broncs team came in first for its eighth victory in as many starts this season. PRICE CHAMBERS / NEWS&GUIDEView our entire photo gallery >>
By Brielle Schaeffer, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
February 20, 2013
For freshman Bella Wood, being on the Jackson Hole High School speech and debate team offers a way to argue and be onstage.
Junior Brandon Kortum finds the team challenges him academically.
Senior and team captain Marlee Miller loves being part of a motivated, hardworking group.
While the motivations driving the 42 members of the team vary, one thing is clear: All the students are steadfast in their passion for performing, whether it be poetry or cross-examination.
At the Star Valley Invitational Speech Meet on Friday and Saturday, the team had its eighth win in as many starts this season.
Coming off an undefeated season that culminated in a state title last year, the team is making a strong case for a repeat finish in 2013.
“This year they have really come together as a team,” coach Mark Houser said. “They really have learned to cross all of the traditional high school cliquish groups to embrace each other and encourage each other. … I wish I could take more credit for their success.”
Given the subjective nature of judging — especially on such varied pieces of comedy and speeches on topics from sharks to teen rebellion — being undefeated is an impressive feat.
Jackson was only three points ahead of the second-place Star Valley team at a meet in Natrona in November but still eked out a victory.
“There are no guarantees,” Houser said.
While winning is not the main focus of the speech and debate team or what Houser and head coach Londe Gagnon hope the kids get out of participating, it still feels good.
“Honestly, it’s human nature,” Houser said. “Everyone is happier if they’re on a winning team.”
Part of the group’s success and accepting environment can be attributed to team captain Miller, who worked to unite teammates, Houser said.
“This is a group of students you would not see come together otherwise,” he said.
They have diverse interests and personalities but have found common ground in speech and debate, Houser said.
“It enhances their high school experience when they can be part of a smaller community, he said.
Being undefeated “feels awesome,” Miller said. “I never thought it’d be so cool, but now that I’m captain I’m like, ‘Go team.’”
This year, the team initiated a practice of having each member watching at least one teammate perform during the competition.
“I’m trying to get everyone to be one team,” Miller said.
It seems to be working. On Friday between rounds at the Star Valley Invitational Speech Meet, Jackson Hole team members from all grades played cards together, the football players on the team right alongside the little freshmen, goofing around like regular teenagers. But during the competitions, the students, in heels and three-piece suits, are anything but adolescent.
Public forum debaters Bryan Checker and Billy Frank expertly argued that the rise of China is not good for the United State’s economy.
Quoting Hillary Clinton, Frank anchored his arguments on a long-standing mutual mistrust between countries.
“China has long been manipulating its currency in an effort to dodge globally established trade laws and gain an upper hand in the world market,” he said.
Checker and Frank finished in first place for public forum debate at the Star Valley meet.
In oratory rounds, junior Halle Wright eloquently and ardently implored the judge to believe in America’s youth in her speech on teen rebellion that wove in citations from rapper Mackelmore and a quote from the animated movie “Kung Fu Panda.”
“If society presumes us to be out of control, that is exactly what they will get,” she said.
Sarah Wolverton capitalized on her peers’ emotional speeches by going in the opposite direction and giving a surprisingly honest and interesting speech on sharks.
The topic may seem ridiculous, Wolverton said, but sharks deserve to be respected and understood.
She likened herself to that one girl in every elementary school who is obsessed with equines.
“I am the scary horse girl, but with sharks,” she said.
In a bow tie, Kortum lyrically recited heavy metal songs from Megadeath and Queen for his poetry interpretation.
Sisters Gretchen and Natalie Palmquist performed a high-energy, comedic duet about sisters and an elderly woman’s obsession with winning at bingo.
The piece they performed was one head coach Londe Gagnon won with when she was in high school, Gagnon said.
Speech and debate has always been part of her life, Gagnon said.
She started going to meets when she was 4 years old and her mom, Peggy, coached the team, she said. When Gagnon was in high school, Houser was one of her coaches.
“It’s really about the relationships you form with the kids,” she said. “It’s kind of fun. Mark and I both are not teachers, so we can have more close relationships in some ways than they have with their teachers. … It’s so cool to inspire them and see them get inspired.”
Gagnon, known for her brightly colored eye makeup, said her makeup is more than a fashion statement.
“In high school, there’s so much you’re afraid of being judged by,” she said. “It’s fun to be myself and show the kids that it’s OK: They can go all out and it’s all good.”
The speech and debate teammates seem to understand that and embrace it in all their competitions and varied interests.
“My one regret is not joining as a freshman,” said Gretchen Palmqist, a senior.