This year marks Jackson Hole High School’s speech and debate team’s 20th consecutive year of qualifying for the national tournament. Five Jackson students — seniors Kyler Arriola and Mataya Foster, juniors Ellie Dunn and Aaron Trauner, and freshman Maleah Tuttle — will represent Jackson and the Wind River District this June in Birmingham, Alabama.
The students competed from March 16 to 18 against 17 schools in the National Speech and Debate Association’s District Tournament at Casper College.
Dunn and Tuttle attend Jackson Hole Community School, and Arriola, Foster and Trauner go to Jackson Hole High School.
The team has qualified students for the national meet for 30 years. Coach Londe Gagnon said consistency helps.
“We’ve had luck with consistency of coaches and coaches that are passionate about the program,” Gagnon said.
Her mother, Peggy Gagnon, coached the team in the 1980s and ’90s. Now they coach together.
Londe Gagnon said other support systems count toward success, too.
“We have a really supportive school, administration and community,” she said. “I think that’s extremely helpful.”
Speech and debate team members compete in 13 events. Competition is divided into debate events, platform events with original speeches, and interpretation events.
“We have strengths in all three categories, and that’s really what makes our team so successful year after year,” Gagnon said.
The students advancing to nationals did well in a variety of areas. The team of Foster and Trauner qualified in public forum debate, arguing whether the United States should stop pressing for a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. They ended with a record of six wins to one loss, tying with two teams.
Trauner qualified in congressional debate, along with less than 5 percent of the 102 Wyoming competitors who qualified for nationals.
Arriola, the team captain, qualified in oral interpretation, an event combining dramatic, prose and poetic selections presented in a 10-minute appearance. Arriola was the runner-up for the Wind River District Student of the Year Award, which is based on the voting of coaches to highlight a student who demonstrates strong academic standards, is actively engaged in the community and exhibits dedication to speech.
Dunn shone in the foreign extemporaneous speaking event. After competing in 13 rounds she earned a spot in another event, but can’t compete in two.
Tuttle fought through six double-elimination rounds to qualify in domestic extemporaneous speaking. She is the first freshman to qualify for nationals since 1996.
Being on the speech and debate team, Gagnon said, helps students in school and life.
“Public speaking is one of the No. 1 fears of adults,” Gagnon said. “But these kids do it every weekend for fun. They’re getting over the fear before they can develop it.”
Students tell Gagnon speech and debate helps them write essays in school.
“Whether it’s future job interviews, presentations or anything on the spot, they’re more prepared for it if they’ve been in speech and debate,” she said.
And it’s enjoyable, too.
“If you look at it on paper it might not seem the most fun,” Gagnon said. “But it becomes such a fun activity for them. There’s so much camaraderie with other speech teams in the state.”
The speech and debate team needs to raise almost $15,000 to send Arriola, Foster, Dunn, Trauner and Tuttle to Alabama. That covers airfare, hotel rooms and entry fees for the students and for three adults required to come as judges.
“Sending more kids to nationals is great for us, but expensive,” Gagnon said. “For every kid that qualifies we need a certain amount of judges.”