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MPS students prepare for National Speech and Debate Association Tournament

King ForensicsBy Brian Foley, Marketing Supervisor

From June 14-20, eight Milwaukee Public Schools students from Milwaukee High School of the Arts, Reagan High School, and Rufus King High School will participate in the 2020 National Speech and Debate Association Tournament. Originally slated to take place in Albuquerque, N.M., the event will be held virtually for the first time in its 90-year history.

The following students will compete at Nationals:

Milwaukee High School of Arts

  • Tyanna Jones: Program Oral Interpretation
  • Tomisha Jackson: Program Oral Interpretation

Rufus King High School

  • Nathan Berry: Dramatic Interpretation (left)
  • Cody Sims: Dramatic Interpretation (right)

Reagan High School

  • Hanah Galvan & Rihana Zaiani: Duo Interpretation
  • Iman Snobar: Congress - Senate
  • Noor Hamed: Program Oral Interpretation

The King and Reagan teams - coached by Erica Allemang-Reinke and Carrie Baker Jackson, respectively - are no strangers to the virtual experience. In the interim period between the initial Safer at Home order and the upcoming National Tournament, the schools competed in six online events, including four competitions where they went head to head: the Wisconsin HS Forensics Association State Festival, the Wisconsin Forensics Coaches Association State Tournament, the Madison West HS Online Tournament, and The MASQ.

Highlights from the virtual forensics competitions included a sixth-place Division II finish for Reagan at the WFCA State Tournament, as well as a pair of titles in Solo Serious Acting for King's two Nationals-bound stars. Berry took the crown at Madison West, while Sims edged him at the WFCA event (Berry finished second).

The shift to virtual events has created an adjustment period for all involved. Students now submit pre-recorded videos of their performances for most speech and interpretation events, though the WFCA State Congress Tournament was done over Zoom.

"The move to online isn't ideal - forensics is performance and performance is better live - but in our current situation, it provides an opportunity when so many other opportunities have been taken away," Baker Jackson said.

Allemang-Reinke similarly lamented the lack of a live audience, but still appreciates the work all parties have put into these virtual events. The WFCA announced the finalists and champions in a Facebook Live session last month, with the moderator even pausing to mention "the long-standing rivalry" between King's Berry and Sims throughout such events over the years. (You can watch the full Facebook Live awards ceremony here. The Solo Serious Acting finalists appear at roughly the 39-minute mark).

"Once I saw the top two were my kids... it felt like being in the auditorium watching it live," Allemang-Reinke said. "After Cody's name popped up as the state champion, I FaceTimed him right away. He worked so hard on that piece!"

Both coaches have been reaching out to their respective students, setting up regular virtual practices that have the two-pronged effect of keeping the team sharp for Nationals and lifting everyone's spirits during these trying times.

"When I meet with my entire team virtually, I require them to tell me 'One Good Thing' that happened in the last week," Baker Jackson said.  "I try to make them see the positives - are [they] healthy and safe? [Are] their families? What good things are happening?  How can I help?"

Two Huskies - Galvan and Zaiani - have participated in Nationals before, and have been able to share their experiences with teammates Snobar and Hamed, who are making their first trip to Nationals, albeit virtually. King's Sims and Berry are also first-timers at this stage, but they do have an extensive King alumni network willing to lend its feedback and support. According to Allemang-Reinke, Sims and Berry have been seeking advice from a pair of past King forensics champions, Durran Goodwin and Carleon Outlaw, both of whom also finished in the top-two in Wisconsin in 2018.

"My kids are absolutely resilient," Allemang-Reinke said. "Even though we were all down about the school year ending so soon, and they could have easily just quit and said it is not worth it, they powered through and made sure they ended this year on a good note."

© Milwaukee Public Schools 2020
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