Mitchell Huston already has accomplished what he set out to do this year on Jefferson City High School's speech and debate team, but he and the other team members hope to achieve even more at upcoming national tournaments.
Huston is one of several JCHS speech and debate students going to Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Washington, D.C., or both this summer to compete in various categories:
Those participating May 24-29 in the National Catholic Forensics League in Washington include:
"I went all in," Huston said of his effort this year for speech and debate. He earned second place nationally last year in prose in Alabama.
"I love that moment when you're standing in front of people performing something you worked hard on," incoming senior and teammate Alex Arand said.
Students on the team spend a lot of time practicing in front of others.
Arand referred to the floor-to-ceiling window-lined hallway around the corner from coach Jordan Hart's classroom that faces JCHS's inner courtyard as "interp hall," where team members rehearse.
Huston explained, though, that sometimes the best people to rehearse in front of are people like family members, who aren't trained to look for technical aspects of a performance and instead provide feedback on what connects with an audience and what doesn't.
Other teammates have to focus on research and evidence for their competitions.
Michael Waggoner, a class of 2018 graduate, said he reads about 10 news stories or law journal articles a week, looking for evidence to cite in his policy speeches, which this year has been assigned to be about education reform policy debates.
Leticia Nketiah, an incoming senior, said her original oratory is about intolerance toward diversity in America and beyond. Zach Lovelace, an incoming junior, said his original oratory is about how society can discriminate in the types of discrimination it often discusses, overlooking discrimination based on illness amid conversations about racism and sexism, for example.
"I'm trying to model what she does but also be my own person," Lovelace said of working under Nketiah this year.
Huston said his goal this year was to make it back to nationals, and he succeeded in that.
To have a shot at first place this time, he said, he's worked on staying within the time limit for his performance, how to better use facial expressions and pauses, and "pulling out an emotional aspect of a piece."
He said he gave up his last game of high school football to focus on speech and debate, which made sense to him because speech and debate is what he'll be doing in college at Southwest Baptist University, along with studying psychology.
Waggoner said he will attend Missouri State University and will do speech and debate there. He said he probably will study economics in college.