Lawrence high school students outperform competitors in forensics, debate

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After a weekend of success, it’s hard to argue that Lawrence’s high school debate and forensics teams aren’t among the best, both regionally and nationwide.

The Free State High School and Lawrence High School forensics teams finished first and second at a tournament at Shawnee Mission East. And despite taking a much smaller team than most to a 2A competition at Rock Creek High School in St. George, the Bishop Seabury forensics team was only 10 points shy of a top-5 finish.

“It was a small but mighty team,” Bishop Seabury forensics coach Doug Weaver said.


At Shawnee Mission East, the FSHS team earned first placed in seven categories. Among the three Lawrence teams, 11 students have now qualified to compete at state tournaments in May.

LHS coach Jeff Plinsky said his forensics team was beginning to fully concentrate on competitions after focusing much of its attention on hosting the Lawrence Invitational the first week of February.

“That eats up most of our focus for the first month, but now that our season has started we are pretty excited,” Plinsky said.

Though the spring forensics season is just getting underway, high school debate wrapped up for most students with the State competition in January. However, one FSHS team has continued to participate in tournaments across the country — and to receive national recognition.

Last weekend, seniors Serena Rupp and John Marshall were named the best team in the nation in rankings compiled by The KleinLine. They are also ranked third on the National Top 25 High School Debate Coaches Poll.

Rupp and Marshall have been debating together since sophomore year. Rupp said that although the team has had a fair amount of success during the past two years, they were now able to capitalize on their experience to strategize and prepare.

“We were reaching early elimination rounds at prestigious tournaments and building name recognition, but we didn’t have the experience and insight of some of our national competitors,” she said. “Now we know all of the industry secrets.”

FSHS coach Kelly Thompson said the team has competed almost year-round since the 2019-2020 debate season. Their schedule has included multiple national tournaments as well as summer institutes.

Thompson said the team had achieved a high level of success not only because of their own hard work, but also thanks to a foundation laid by fellow students.

“They work tirelessly, and not just John and Serena but our other varsity students this year and in the years before,” he said. “There have been a number of incredibly successful teams from Kansas over the last decade who have really paved the way for teams like John and Serena to get recognized on a national level.”

Rupp said that this year she had especially enjoyed being able to participate in tournaments in person rather than online. She said a competition last fall in Austin, Texas, provided an opportunity to finally meet friends from across the country that she had formerly known only online.

Marshall said a trip to the exclusive Justin Wilson Pace Round Robin in Atlanta gave the team a chance to compete against some of the best teams in the country. During the event, they also were recorded for an educational video archive.

“I used to watch these (videos) all the time years ago when being the best in the country was just a dream,” Marshall said. “It’s very, very surreal now to watch that video online with hundreds of views and see how far we’ve come.”


With only three more competitions in their high school careers, both Rupp and Marshall have begun to reflect on their experiences and think about how debate fits into the future.

Rupp said she had no doubt the research and public speaking experience she has gained through debate had helped her academically. Although she has not yet decided on a path after graduation, she said she was planning to continue in a debate program in college.

Marshall said he hadn’t yet chosen a college either, and he didn’t know if he would continue in debate at the next level. However, he said the experience he has gained debating in high school would serve him either way.

“Debate is something not easy to leave, which doesn’t make the decision any easier,” he said. “Even if I don’t continue to do it, I’ve gained unimaginably important skills far before most people.”

Forensics Team Results, Feb. 11-13:

** = State qualifier

Shawnee Mission East Forensics Tournament

Free State High School

1st Place, Team Sweepstakes Award

1st Place, Varsity Congress, Emma Stammeyer

1st Place, Congressional Debate – Novice House, Wendo Kimori

1st Place, Dramatic Interpretation, Kate Cella Allison**

1st Place, Humorous Interpretation, Cici Hunter**

1st Place, International Extemporaneous Speech, Ezra Joseph**

1st Place, Original Oratory, Emma Hefty**

1st Place, Prose Interpretation, Cici Hunter**

2nd Place, US Extemporaneous Speech, Kady Bischmann

3rd Place, Original Oratory, Abbey Hossler

3rd Place, Prose Interpretation, Cella Allison

3rd Place, US Extemporaneous Speech, Abbey Hossler

4th Place, Informative Speech, Anwen Williams

5th Place, Prose Interpretation, Abbey Hossler

5th Place, US Extemporaneous Speech, Wendo Kimori

6th Place, Humorous Interpretation, Kady Bischmann

6th Place, Poetry Interpretation, Emma Holsclaw

6th Place, Public Forum Debate, Gilly Falin & Gillian Sellet

Lawrence High School

2nd Place, Team Sweepstakes Award

1st Place, Lincoln Douglas Debate, Thomas Lushington

1st Place, Duo Interpretation, Rose Allgeier & Adelaide Sivits

2nd Place, Poetry Interpretation, Caitlin Sand**

2nd Place, Dramatic Interpretation, Kate O’Keefe**

2nd Place, Congressional Debate – House, J. Riggins

2nd Place, Congressional Debate – Novice House, Anne Woolverton

3rd Place, US Extemporaneous Speech, J. Riggins

3rd Place, Congressional Debate – House, Helen Viloria

3rd Place, Congressional Debate – Novice House, Rose Allgeier

3rd Place, Public Forum Debate, Eliot Manning & Bradley Schrock

4th Place, Impromptu Speech, Clara Bode

4th Place, Humorous Interpretation, Trent Blettner

5th Place, Poetry Interpretation, Gretchen Bannwarth

5th Place, Congressional Debate – House, Perrin Goulter

5th Place, Congressional Debate – Novice House, Thomas Sikes

6th Place, Original Oratory, Bryce Erickson

6th Place, Prose Interpretation, Clara Bode


Washburn Rural Tournament

Free State High School

2nd Place, Humorous Interpretation, Gillian Sellet**

2nd Place, International Extemporaneous, Joel Harrison**

5th Place, Impromptu Speech, Joel Harrison

5th Place, International Extemporaneous, Nathan Peltier

5th Place, Original Oratory, Isaac Godsey

6th Place, Duo Interpretation, Logan Dinges & Somjai Sengchen

Rock Creek Forensics Tournament

Bishop Seabury Academy

1st Place, Duet Acting, Ivan Calderon & David Klimiuk**

1st Place, Improvised Duet Acting, Ivan Calderon & Owen Ross**

4th Place, Serious Solo Acting, David Klimiuk

7th Place, Humorous Solo Acting, AJ Brewer

8th Place, Extemporaneous Speech, Sam Jackson

Top 10, Prose Interpretation, Owen Ross

Top 10, Impromptu Speech, Hayden Slough

Top 15, Impromptu Speech, Truman Sizemore

Top 15, Poetry Interpretation, Hayden Slough

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Andrea Albright (she/her), reporter, can be reached at aalbright (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

More coverage: Speech, debate and forensics


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