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Potsdam Central’s speech & debate team ready for state tournament

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POTSDAM - Students from Potsdam Central High School’s speech and debate team will be heading to Albany this weekend to compete in the New York State Forensic League Championship Tournament.

“This is a really good team,” Coach Daniel J. Jenack said. “This is probably the most active group I’ve had in my 14 years in charge.”

Mr. Jenack said this year’s team includes 13 members who come to practice each week prepared and ready to work.

“These people come prepared. I never have to worry about the quality or seriousness of the piece,” he said.

The students will leave for Albany Friday afternoon, with the two-day competition kicking off Saturday morning and wrapping up with an awards ceremony Sunday afternoon.

For President Shannon L. Smith, a junior, this weekend will mark her third trip to the state tournament. Ms. Smith said she’ll be competing in the Student Congress this year.

“At the state level it’s a little more competitive than we’re used too,” she said, adding she’s looking forward to the challenge.

“I like it because you get to see a lot of different people from across the state, and it’s a great opportunity to expand your knowledge of speech and debate and the categories themselves,” she said.

“It’s like what you would expect from a regular congress, but with students,” she said, explaining how the student congress works. “Students create their own bills, and they formulate a speech to present the bill.”

Other student congress members, including Ms. Smith, then choose a side to argue, speaking in favor of or in opposition to the proposed legislation.

Vice President Cassie L. McCormick, a fellow junior, is also making her third trip in three years.

Ms. McCormick said she enjoys the challenge of competing in the state tournament.

“It’s a lot of fun, mainly because when you compete against the people from your district you know what their strengths and weaknesses are. So when you compete against different people it’s more of a challenge,” she said.

This year Ms. McCormick said she’ll be competing in the oral interpretation category.

“You pick a prose piece and a poetry piece,” she said. “You get to read it ,and you’re supposed to really get into character when you present the piece.”

Alexis E. Tischler is another veteran on the team and a senior, will be making her fourth trip to the states in six years.

While it would be nice to win, Ms. Tischler said that’s not what it’s all about.

“When you go to states, it’s not about competing to win. Up to that point we’re big fish in a small pond, but down there it’s a different level of competition. So it’s not really about winning, it’s about building relationships with people from our district and meeting people from other districts.”

Ms. Tischler said she will be competing in the dramatic performance category, a category that actually requires it’s participants to memorize their performance.

“You take a dramatic piece and perform it from the character’s perspective,” she said.

While the team does include many veterans who have competed at the state level before, not everyone has state championship experience under their belt.

Alex Wang, a sophomore with four years of speech and debate experience, including one in California, will be making his first trip to the state championship.

“There is no state level competition until you reach ninth grade,” he said, adding he participated in speech and debate as a freshman in California last year but did not reach the state tournament.

Mr. Wang said he’s using this year as a learning experience.

“I’ll be looking forward to learning from other people. I’ll probably pick some stuff up from the other competitors,” he said.

But as with any high school activity, Mr. Wang also said it’s important to have a good time.

“We’ll be going with our friends on this team and from other districts. I’m looking forward to having a good time with them.”

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