From Monday to Wednesday, four Moffat County High School boys worked non-stop in a sea of 5,000 high school students from across the country.
For 10 hours each day, with hardly a break for lunch, 2010 MCHS graduates Brodie Schulze and Greg Blackstun, incoming senior Ryan Neece and incoming junior Ryan Zehner spoke and debated their way through the nation’s largest speech and debate competition, hosted in Kansas City, Mo.
While none of the four broke through the qualifying rounds at the National Forensics League National Tournament, the MCHS speech and debate team came away with a positive experience.
Schulze and Blackstun, who have debated together since their freshmen year, were the first debate team from MCHS to qualify for the competition.
They finished Wednesday with a winning record, but missed breaking through to the qualifiers by just one vote.
With 12 judges assessing their six cross-examination debate rounds, seven judges voted in favor of the pair and five voted against them.
“We did pretty well,” Schulze said. “We hit some pretty good teams and we beat one really good team we were happy about. One team that beat us is in the finals, so they’re potentially the national champions.”
Schulze said he and Blackstun weren’t nervous — they had competed on the national circuit before and knew what to expect.
“I think one of our strengths is that even though we come from a small district, we still have enough experience competing on the national circuit,” he said. “I think we’ve just been doing it for so long. Most of the time it’s just another debate round.”
Assistant coach Casey Kilpatrick said given the type of competition the pair was up against, they performed impressively.
“For them to finish with a wining record, considering some of the competition they hit … only two teams they saw ended up with losing records,” Kilpatrick said. “It’s not an easy tournament to debate in.”
While Schulze and Blackstun were familiar with the national stage, Zehner experienced his first national competition in the national extemporaneous category.
Although official results have yet to be released, Zehner said he finished in middle of the pack with score of 41.
Neece, at his second national competition, finished in the top 100 in international extemporaneous.
Both had six rounds and did not break through the qualifiers.
But, Zehner said he can build on his experience and better prepare himself for the level of competition he’ll see next year.
“It was a really great experience,” he said. “I’ve learned more at this tournament than I learned at any other. My mindset was different. Every individual there earned it just like I had. I went into it knowing this was a whole new ballgame and I really had to step it up.”
He said next year he’ll know how to prepare for the specific topics he faced, and is confident in his ability to better his results each year.
But, next year won’t be the same.
Not without Schulze and Blackstun, who were role models and friends to the team of 20 students.
“When they leave, speech isn’t going to be the same,” Zehner said. “It’s going to be really upsetting. We’ll just have to keep with it. We’re great friends with everyone and (coach Eric) Hansen and (Kilpatrick) are irreplaceable.”
Schulze, who will attend the University of Colorado at Boulder in the fall along with Blackstun, said leaving his last high school speech tournament was a bittersweet moment.
“I’m kind of sad,” Schulze said. “But, then, at the same time, I’m kind of happy. It takes a lot of time and work. But, it is a lot of fun to do and obviously I enjoyed it because I did it for so long even though it was so much work.”
Kilpatrick said the pair leaves behind a legacy, and that the program has a bright future with speakers like Neece and Zehner.
“The program is in really good shape as far as the people we have remaining,” Kilpatrick said. “We’re losing some talented people who have been with us for years, but, we have some dynamic debaters and I’m excited about what we’ll be able to do next.”