Twelve students from Plymouth High School recently returned from Phoenix, Arizona, with the prestigious School of Excellence Award for Speech. PHS placed in the Top Twenty schools out of over 2,000 schools at this year’s competition from over 50 states, regions, territories, and other countries at what has recently become an international competition hosted by the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA). Over 6,000 students earned entry for the National Tournament via their District Tournament and Last Chance Qualification Tournaments across the United States, its territories, and a small number of other countries ranging from each of the Americas to Asia over the past decade.

Leading the scoring for the team were sophomore Dariel Herrera (two-time NSDA qualifier) and junior Jonathan Velasquez who earned a spot in the semi-finals of Duo Interpretation. The pair finished 14th out of the 254 entries in that event.

Additionally, PHS had another Duo narrowly miss the semi-finals and score points with their quarter-final finish. Senior Alex DeJarnatt (two-time NSDA qualifier) and sophomore Claire Lewandowski finished 17th in the nation.

Senior Meg Meredith Robinson (three-time NSDA qualifier) was another quarter-finalist for PHS and ended her career with an 18th place finish out of 268 entries in Dramatic Interpretation.

Sophomore Maddie Harness rounded out the PHS quarter-finalists by breaking to that level against a hefty field of 480 entries in the House of Representatives.

To qualify for the elimination rounds, entries competed for six preliminary rounds and had to score well enough to advance to the Top 60 in their events and be named octa-finalists. Generally speaking, it took anywhere from 32 to 36 total ranks to advance to the elimination rounds. Points were earned by totalling the twelve total ranks from the two judges who ranked students during each of the six preliminary rounds.

Advancing students then competed in two octa-final rounds where they could then advance to the quarter-finals (Top 30). Those surviving entries fought for two additional rounds to advance the semifinal rounds (Top 14). Following two additional semi-final rounds, entries were placed in the top six after the twelve total preliminary and elimination rounds. Those six entries then performed in the packed 2,000 seat Phoenix Convention Center for the top six spots in their events, with a National Champion being crowned.

There were typically seven students in each preliminary round. The best total score after the six preliminary rounds could have been as low as 12, meaning they received 1st place ranks from every judge, or as high as 84 points. All of the students mentioned previously as quarter-finalists or semi-finalists made the breaks for their events. Even the Plymouth students who came short of advancing to octa-finals scored very well.

● Sophomore Gloria Sullivan totaled 36 ranks for prelims and narrowly missed the break out of the 272 entries qualifying in Programmed Oral Interp (POI).

● Senior Anne Blake totaled 42 ranks for prelims out of the 268 entries qualifying in Informative Speaking.

● Freshman Olivia Burch totaled 45 ranks for prelims out of the 262 entries qualifying in Humorous Interpretation.

● Sophomore Tyler Travis totaled 50 ranks for prelims out of the 480 entries qualifying in the House of Representatives.

● Senior Gloria Garcia totaled 55 ranks for prelims out of the 272 entries qualifying in POI.

● Junior Cassidy Riddle totaled 68 points for prelims out of the 271 entries qualifying in International Extemp.

Additional honors from the National Tournament were earned by others from the team as well. Anne Blake was recognized for qualifying to the National Tournament each of her four years of high school. She received a crystal vase atop a marble base.

Plymouth coach Eric Schaefer was awarded his second coaching diamond and head coach David McKenzie was recognized with his seventh coaching diamond.

 As for the team finish McKenzie said, “PHS was the only team from Indiana to earn a team School of Excellence Award.” In fact, no Indiana team won a School of Honor Award for ranking in spots 21 through 40 out of the 1,250+ schools. McKenzie continued, “It was a gratifying finish to compete our way into the Top 20 in the nation after narrowly missing our quest for a state title following a runner-up finish behind perennial rival Munster in the strong AA division of the state tournament. Munster and Plymouth, both members of the mid-sized school division, actually out-totaled the points of all of the schools in both the small school and large school divisions at the ISSDA State Speech Tournament back in March. These twelve individuals represented their teammates extremely well. They also enjoyed representing our school, the Plymouth community, and the Northeast Indiana NSDA District.”

McKenzie also wanted to commend the phenomenal group of coaches who worked tirelessly throughout a season that began with preparations last August and continued until mid-June with our trip to Nationals. That coaching group included himself, Charlotte Tyree, Daniel Tyree, Eric Schaefer, Sarah McKenzie, Sarah Robinson, Trent McKenzie, and Maggie Kubley.

In addition to thanking the coaches, McKenzie also wanted to thank the entire 2022-2023 team, their parents, the monetary donors for the 2023 Showcase held at the Rees Theater as the team prepared for Nationals, the PHS staff, the high school administration, the central office administration, the PCSC school board, and the Plymouth community at large. He said, “It was once said that ‘it takes a village to raise a child. I would say it takes more than a village to help build a team that has sustained excellence since Daniel Tyree re-started the Plymouth team in the early 1979-80, and it has been a blessing for me and my wife to play our part in the Plymouth Speech and Debate program since 2000.” Finally, Mckenzie wants to thank our corporate sponsor, Mr. John Oliver and US Granules, for their continued support over the last 30 years.

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