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Draper Journal

Corner Canyon High forensics team takes third at state, sends individuals to nationals

May 29, 2022 12:57PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Louisville or bust.

That’s what a couple Corner Canyon High speech and debate students have their minds on now that school is over.

Freshman Grace Norton, junior Ronan Spencer and senior Max Napieralski have all earned qualifying invitations to compete at the National Speech and Debate national competition on June 12-17, in Louisville, Kentucky.

This was on top of Draper High School snatching third place in 6A state and repeating as their region champions.

“We went from four to 17 kids last year to 40 kids this year,” said Jeramy Acker, who last year became their adviser even though his coaching experience has been with sports. “I don’t have any experience with speech and debate. Zero. None. But I know coaching.”

Acker began by asking students,“What do you want to achieve?”

“I told them, ‘I don’t want to push you to be a state champion if you don’t want to be a state champion,’” he said. “I want to make sure they’re not aspirations I have for them, but that they have for themselves.”

With a goal of winning region, he instituted “afterschool labs and various components to structurally support them” as well as invited successful college debate students to help students meet their aspirations.

This year, when he repeated the question, he was told they wanted to repeat as champions and be in the top five in state.

“When they took third, they were ecstatic, because they were not just in top five, but in top three,” he said. “One of the things I like about speech and debate is what you put into it, you get out of it. After they got third, they said they wanted to win the state championship. I told them, ‘If you want to win, that starts right now, not in the fall.’ So, we’re already doing all the necessary planning right now to look at what we can do over the summer. We can definitely achieve the goal that the students have right now for next year.”

The team competes from October through March, both in-person and virtually. Each quarter, students compete in at least two tournaments.

One of the national qualifiers, Spencer, who is competing in student congress at nationals, set the team record with 638 points for the season.

“We’ve never had anyone that’s competed in as many events or at as many tournaments as Ronan did,” Acker said about the state silver medalist.

Napieralski recently got invited in his first year competing in speech to nationals. At press time, it was undecided if he would compete.

“It’s super cool for Max,” Acker said. “We really have highly academic students here at Corner Canyon. There’s a lot of college opportunities and scholarships in speech and debate and it’s almost in line with every AP or honors class with putting in extensive research, building cases, writing original speeches and practicing.”

Norton qualified in extemporaneous speaking. Her older brother, John, also competed in the same event, earning second place at state this year. He competed last year at nationals.

“John spent a lot of time actually coaching these kids as a student mentor,” Acker said, adding that team captain and senior Anna Page also advised students.

At state, junior Arden Edwards took second in impromptu, sophomores Henry Atkin and Alyssa Miller earned third in policy debate, and sophomores Katie Brown and Abby Holland are first alternates in policy debate.

“I think it was a big moment for our kids because some had never been to a state championship team. We’re young, but that plays in our favor for next year. We can continue to grow our team, build up the skills on the kids we have and continue to find other kids who are looking for an opportunity to build friendships and skills,” Acker said. “I hope that all students find something they’re passionate about, build relationships and through that build confidence and connections that will last well into their adult lives.”

As a freshman, Norton switched to the event from competing in Lincoln Douglas debate in seventh grade. Now, at competitions, she is given a choice of three topics and 30 minutes to prepare before delivering a seven-minute speech.

“We’re just kind of playing with the cards that we were dealt,” she said. “I found that some things I’ve worked on, typically related to things such as infrastructure, have been brought up quite a few times, so I can sometimes build off of an old speech on the topic.”

Norton said it’s been helpful that during the 30-minute preparation time, she can use notes and internet sources. Before competitions, she researches National Speech and Debate Association’s prompts and keeps up on current events.

As Norton prepares for nationals, she is evaluating how other people deliver their speeches, from vocabulary to how it flowed on stage.

“I find that it gives me tips on what word choices I make and how I should present myself,” Norton said. “I have a fear of public speaking; speaking in front of people always makes me a tad bit nervous. I used to pace, but now I just take some deep breaths and tell myself not to rush everything.”

Norton qualified for nationals at a tournament held in March at Price.

“It was a surreal experience. When I heard my name called, I was like, ‘you’re kidding me?’” she said.

Now, she and her teammates will be amongst the 1,600 students competing for the top spots in the nation.