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Panthers forensics team competes at state
Courtesy photo Great Bend High School students competed at the 5A KSHSAA State Championship Tournament, held Saturday, May 7, at Salina. Back row from left: Chrisangel Adame, Angel Palacio, Maddix Pokorski; middle row: Assistant Coach Dan Heath, Malachi Wasson, Justin Chanka, Reese King, Thomas Henrikson, Theo Hopkinson-Smith; front row: Coach Kim Heath, Eave Taylor, Isaiah Smith, Xanna Smith, Darcy Feist, Alondra Alvarez, Milena Carbajal.

The Panther Forensics team at Great Bend High School capped an outstanding season with a fifth-place finish at the 5A Kansas State High School Activities Association State Championship Tournament last Saturday in Salina. The Panthers were led by six individual events in the final round. They swept the top three places in Duo Interpretation, had two students earn medals in Humorous Interpretation and had one medalist in Prose Interpretation.  

The 5A State Champions in Duo Interpretation are junior Eave Taylor and sophomore Thomas Henrikson. State Runner-ups are junior Alondra Alvarez and sophomore Milena Carbajal. Seniors Isaiah Smith and Malachi Wasson finished third.   

The final placing of these three teams was a departure from the rest of the season and demonstrates the talent and perseverance of the whole squad. For example, last week at the prestigious Forensics Coaches Invitational, Smith and Wasson placed first, while Alvarez and Carbajal finished second and Taylor and Henrikson were eighth.

“All three of our Duos tell very different stories, but they all represent hours of work and dedication by these young performers,” said Head Coach Kim Heath. “Seeing these six students stand up on stage together is one of the most rewarding experiences as their coach that I have ever had. We have a lot of younger talent this year, and it has been a joy to watch them confidently tell their stories with both humor and purpose and compete alongside our most veteran experts.” 

Wasson was also nearly named State Champion in Humorous Interpretation. He placed second on tie-breakers. Henrikson finished fourth in Humorous Interpretation. Also making it to the stage was freshman Darcy Feist, who took home a fourth-place medal in Prose. 

GBHS had a full slate of competitors – most of whom had never competed in-person at a state tournament. The past two state tournaments were either canceled or held online. The tournament was a culmination of a season of hard work, Heath said. Twelve of the team’s 16 entries broke into the semi-final round. Feist barely missed the final round of six in Original Oration, placing seventh. Carbajal was eighth in Dramatic Interpretation, Alvarez was ninth in Impromptu Speaking, and Isaiah Smith was 11th in Informative. Junior Xanna Smith finished 11th and Taylor finished 12th in Program of Oral Interpretation. Great Bend also picked up vital points from state qualifiers Maddix Pokorski in Impromptu and Extemporaneous Speaking and Reese King in Informative Speaking.

“I believe the key to our success this season has been focusing on constant improvement and growth,” Heath said. “Each of these individuals is more confident and a stronger performer than they were at the start of the season. I am honored to be their coach and to get to watch their talent mature. I’m so proud of everyone’s hard work and commitment.”

State Drama Festival

In addition to those at the tournament, Great Bend High School was also represented at the State Speech and Drama Festival held at Kansas Wesleyan University on Saturday. Sophomore Chrisangel Adame received a gold medal for a I rating in Dramatic Interpretation for an outstanding performance. Adame, Theo Hopkinson-Smith, Angel Palacio and Justin Chanka performed speeches and all received II ratings from the judges.

More awards

Finally, GBHS was just notified that senior Malachi Wasson and juniors Maddix Pokorski and Alondra Alavarez have received the Academic All-American designation from the National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA) for the 2021-22 school year. The NSDA Academic All-American award recognizes high school students who have achieved the degree of “Superior Distinction” by earning at least 750 points through their speech and debate activities and accomplishments. In addition, Academic All-American winners must have completed at least five semesters of high school, demonstrated outstanding character and leadership, and must have earned a GPA of at least 3.5 on a 4.0 scale. The Academic All-American honor is one of the highest honors students can achieve in speech and debate. According to promotional materials from NSDA, only the top two percent of NSDA member students ever receive the Academic All-American award.

“These three are not only excellent competitors but also talented student leaders and committed teammates who have helped promote and grow the GBHS debate and forensics program by mentoring other students to help them develop and be successful,” said Heath. “That commitment to helping each other runs through my whole squad. Great Bend Forensics is not just a team, it is a family.”

The regular season is over for the GBHS Panthers. The final tournament of the year will be the NSDA nationals this June in Louisville, Kent. where they will be represented by Isaiah Smith, Malachi Wasson, Alondra Alvarez, Milena Carbajal and Darcy Feist.