It was a tournament two Great Bend High School forensics students had been working toward for four years and their efforts did not disappoint.
Ashtin Heath and Aaron Miller, recent graduates, competed in the national speech and debate tournament held in Birmingham, Alabama, June 16-25.
Heath advanced to round five in Impromptu Speaking and placed 10th in the nation out of 615 speakers. Miller advanced to round three of Impromptu Speaking and placed in the top 16 percent in the event.
“We are very proud of both of them,” said Barbara Watson, GBHS speech and debate coach. “Both Ashtin and Aaron did their best at the tournament and did very well and we will miss them very much next year.”
Out of one million National Speech and Debate Association members, only 4,600 students qualify to the National Speech and Debate tournament, Watson said. Her students joined the top 3 percent of the students in the organization who qualified to nationals.
“It is an honor in itself just to qualify to compete in the national tournament and this was a return trip for both Ashtin and Aaron,” she said. “At this year’s district tournament, both qualified in two different events. For their main events, Ashtin competed in Dramatic Interpretation and Aaron competed in Humorous Interpretation.
Watson said both students did very well competing against top competitors from all over the country. For example, Miller competed against the national Humorous Interpretation champion in the fourth preliminary round of competition and his scores were very competitive. Miller had the best scores of anyone in the West Kansas district and barely missed advancing to the elimination rounds in his main event.
“The national tournament was yet another great experience,” Miller said. “Being able to compete with the top kids in the nation was a dream come true. The GBHS speech and debate program has been a huge part of my life and I will miss it so much.”
“The national tournament showcases the best of the best,” said Traci Miller, Aaron’s mother. “It was exciting to see to Great Bend kids do so well.”
Miller and Heath also competed very well in the consolation event of Impromptu Speaking, Watson said.
There were 615 competitors in Impromptu Speaking, the event in which contestants draw three topics and then choose one to develop into a speech. After choosing a topic, the competitors have seven minutes to brainstorm ideas, mentally outline the presentation and deliver the speech. Both Great Bend students spent about 1:20 organizing their speeches in their heads and then used the rest of the time presenting a 5:40 minute speech without notes.
“They used quotes and examples from literature, history and pop culture to develop their main points,” Watson noted.
Impromptu Speaking is a single-elimination event, which means students have to place first or second in their section each round to advance to the next round of competition. If students do not place first or second in their section each time, they are eliminated.
Heath advanced to round five on Thursday evening joining the top 21 students entered in the event. Round five topics were quotes pulled from movies. Her topic was a quote from Juan in the movie, Moonlighting: “At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.”
“Ashtin gave an excellent speech about how Jim Carrey and J. K. Rowling chose their paths, how what we want to be often changes as we mature and how we all should choose to be someone who makes a difference,” said Kim Heath, Ashtin’s mother, “Unfortunately, the other speeches in the room were also amazing.”
Heath placed third in that round and did not advance.
“It was quite a blessing to me to be able to follow Ashtin and listen to her impromptu speeches. She is amazing and I am so glad that she wanted me to watch her,” Kim Heath said.
“Ashtin placed 10th overall in the nation out of 615 in the impromptu event,” Watson said. “This was the top 2 percent in Impromptu. That is very impressive!”
“I had so much fun this week,” Heath said. “Competing with my best friend at the national level has been one of my dreams since I was a freshman.”
Miller also competed in Impromptu Speaking and advanced to round three. He finished in the top 98 competitors or the top 16 percent in the event.