The Wheeling Park High School Speech and Debate Team on Saturday captured its 34th consecutive state championship at the West Virginia Interscholastic Forensics League State Speech and Debate tournament at West Virginia University.
"The Park" squad took part in 14 different speech and debate events. Members competed in four preliminary rounds plus semi-final and final rounds. Each of the team's 20 members won either a semi-finalist or finalist individual award.
Six members were first-place state champions in their events: Gabrielle Payne, Hannah Hlad, Aimee Schultz and Devyn Nickerson. Stefanie Lemasters and Blake Humphrey were double state champions.
Members of the Wheeling Park High School Speech and Debate Team pose Monday after winning their 34th state championship. They include, front row from left, Hannah Hlad, Danielle Walter, Alyson Hehr, Stefanie Lemasters, Gabrielle Payne, Karen Laska and Lydia Holmstrand; second row, Riley Bresnaham, Aimee Schultz, Annemarie Krall, Elizabeth Kaniecki, London Orzokek, Colleen Dorsey and Emily Anderson; and third row, Lauren West, Madeleine Hall, Blake Humphrey, Beverly Banks and Austin Gage.
"The awards ceremony was one of the most thrilling moments of my life," said co-captain Lemasters. "The nerves were overwhelming, but the excitement after the announcement of our 34th win was even bigger."
Gabrielle Payne, also co-captain, added, "Each member of our team worked incredibly hard, and we are so proud that the legacy lives on. The town is so supportive of us, and we are honored to be the 34th state championship team."
Park's state championship culminated a highly successful speech and debate season. The students competed in seven regular season tournaments in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, winning six first place awards and one second place. Winning the state tournament, however, has special meaning.
Alyson Hehr, debate captain, said, "Winning the state tournament was a perfect end to a fantastic year."
Head coach Bill Cornforth said, "Each year there is a pressure on the team to keep this streak alive. That is an extra motivation to work very hard on one's own and in practices. That work ethic leads to an energetic team spirit that is wonderful to watch. Much praise should go to the senior members who keep that spirit contagious."
Wheeling Park's speech and debate season has one more major event - the National Catholic Forensic League national tournament that will be held in Philadelphia, Pa. over Memorial Day weekend in May. Ten Wheeling Park members have qualified to compete at the tournament.
Wheeling Park's individual award winners at the state tournament were: Lemasters, first place Dramatic Interpretation and first place Humorous Interpretation; Humphrey, first place Public Forum Debate, first place Public Forum speaker and second place Student Congress Debate; Payne, first place Broadcasting, third place Dramatic Interpretation and third place Duo Interpretation; Schultz, first place Declamation and second place Duo Interpretation; Nickerson, first place Public Forum Debate and fourth place Student Congress; Hlad, first place Poetry;
Austin Gage, second place Humorous Interpretation, second place Original Oratory and fourth place Broadcasting; Beverly Banks, second place Public Forum Debate and third place Student Congress Debate; Lizzie Kaniecki, second place Poetry and third place Salesmanship; Colleen Dorsey, second place Duo Interpretation and fourth place Declamation; Alyson Hehr, second place Public Forum Debate; London Orzolek, second place Impromptu Speaking; Karen Laska, third place Impromptu and fifth place Extemporaneous Speaking; Lauren West, third place Original Oratory; Danielle Walter, third place Prose Interpretation and third place Duo Interpretation; Lydia Holmstrand, fourth place Extemporaneous Speaking; Emily Anderson, sixth place Student Congress Debate and Best Presiding Officer; Annemarie Krall, sixth place Lincoln-Douglas Debate Speaker; Maddie Hall, sixth place Salesmanship; Riley Bresnahan, semi-finalist in Lincoln-Douglas Debate and first place speaker in Lincoln-Douglas Debate.
The assistant coaches are Josh Fromhart, Kayla Nelson, Lori Mathieu and Jeff Holmstrand, who is a parent assistant.