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Free State speech and debate students earn prestigious award as a top 10 school nationwide

A debate duo and a speech student competed as national finalists, and Free State High School earned the School of Outstanding Distinction Award, given only to the top 10 programs nationwide, their coach said Saturday.

More than 1,400 schools competed in this year’s National Speech and Debate Association’s national tournament, Firebirds coach Kelly Thompson said. Events were held virtually over the past week. 

Thompson summarized the performance via email: “Having set records during the year by qualifying the most number of events and students for the competition, the students entered the tournament with high hopes and lofty goals – and they surpassed them in record fashion.”

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It’s possible that Free State’s School of Outstanding Distinction Award is not only a new school record, but a new state record as well, according to Thompson.

“In at least my 12 year head coaching career, no Kansas school has ever won this award,” he said. “I was unable to find another coach who could recall when / if it had ever happened.”

The Times reported Thursday night that seniors Ethan Harris and Aiden Basore had taken third place in policy debate — “This is the highest placing at the national tournament in ANY event in Free State history,” Thompson wrote. 

Senior Timothy Huffman finished the tournament in the finals of Domestic Extemporaneous Speaking on Saturday, the same event in which he won the state championship last month. He placed 5th out of 349 students competing from across the country, his coach said. 

“He is the first person in Free State history to ever make the Semifinals, let alone the finals, at the NSDA National Tournament,” Thompson said. 

Here are more results from Thompson’s email: 

• Junior Serena Rupp was recognized with the first speaker award for Free State at the National tournament. Out of nearly 450 students competing, Rupp was the ninth overall speaker. 

• Finishing with a 4-2 record in the elimination rounds, seniors Jacob Wilkus and Simon Ruland finished the tournament placing 16th. 

• Finishing with a 3-2 record in the elimination rounds, Rupp and fellow junior John Marshall finished the tournament ranked in the top 25. 

Free State entered the tournament having had a combined total of two students in the school’s 24 year history advance to the elimination rounds of this tournament, the coach wrote. In this year’s tournament alone, the Firebirds advanced four students to the Speech elimination rounds. 

• Senior Emily Bial finished the tournament in the Quarterfinals of Program of Oral Interpretation, placing her in the Top 30 of more than 300 competing from across the country. 

• Sophomore Emma Hefty finished the tournament in the double octofinals of Informative Speaking, placing her in the Top 100 out of more than 300 competing from across the country. 

• Junior Ezra Joseph finished the tournament in the double octofinals of International Extemporaneous Speaking, placing him in the Top 100 out of more than 300 competing from across the country. 

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