Moffat County High School's speech and debate team is booming in popularity, and coach Eric Hansen is thrilled.
"We're getting bigger, much bigger," he said. "So that's pretty exciting. Hectic, but exciting."
With 35 competitors, the team has grown considerably in the past two years. Last season's team boasted 24 members. The year before, the team had only six.
If last week's tournament in Craig was any indication, speech and debate is popular all over.
On Friday and Saturday, 170 students from 12 schools poured into the high school to compete in the tournament. That's double the number of schools and three times as many contestants compared with last year, Hansen said. It was Moffat County's third tournament out of 13 for the season. Students choose to compete in two categories -- one in the morning and another in the afternoon.
Categories include poetry, humor, drama, creative storytelling and public forum.
Competitors perform three times in each category. Each time, they perform for a different panel of judges. Judges are parent and community volunteers. After the tournament, students learn the outcome at an awards ceremony.
This year's Moffat County team is composed primarily of freshmen and sophomores, which gives Hansen hope for the team's future. "Next year, we'll have a lot more upperclassmen," he said.
He said the sophomores have helped train the freshmen.
"Having the kids around for the second year is really helpful," he said. "We have a lot of leaders in the sophomore class."
One of those veterans is sophomore Tanya Rinehart, who competed in the duo contest at the state level last year. She said she joined the team to make new friends.
"I love meeting all of them because they're really interesting people," Rinehart said. "I like to have fun, and I like the scholarships that are available. Colleges like speech and debaters."
Rinehart wants to become a psychologist and actress, and she thinks the activity can help her meet those goals. "I think it'll help you a lot with anything you want to do," she said.
Third-year competitor Will Schneegas, one of two seniors on the team, agrees. "You get to meet new people and make new relationships," he said.
Schneegas joined the team as a sophomore "just because I wanted to try something new," he said. "I'm really not an athletic person."
It also gives him a chance to do what he likes to do, he said.
"I get to debate a lot, yell at people," he said.
Schneegas said he also likes to travel, which tournaments allow him to do.
Speech and debate stands out among other high school activities because it gives students on-the-road experience and allows them to develop public-speaking skills, Hansen said.
"I really think it prepares them for college and real life," he said.
Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209, or firstname.lastname@example.org.