Kylie Morris argues NATO should have an increased presence in the Baltic states as a timer indicates time remaining during a drama, debate and forensics tournament Saturday at Thunder Mountain High School. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Debating on home turf

TMHS hosts first home tournament in two years

Resolved: Juneau Drama, Debate and Forensics team members are happy to be hosting in-person home meets again.

Over the weekend, teams from around Southeast Alaska gathered at Thunder Mountain High School for Juneau’s first in-person drama, debate and forensics tournament in two years. The Juneau tournament was the high school season’s third live event after COVID-19 forced all competition online last year.

“It was the closest to normal we have felt in the last two years,” said James Marks, who coaches the combined teams that represent TMHS and Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé. “It was a miracle that we could do anything last year.”

Marks said that only one student on the team had participated in an in-person home meet before, so the experience of competing on home turf was new. In the age of COVID-19, the experience also raised questions, like should competitors shake hands or bump fists at the end of the match? (No clear winner emerged.)

“It went great,” he said. “The biggest highlight was the excitement I could sense from all the students throughout the tournament.”

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During each tournament, students compete across a variety of categories, including speaking, acting and debate. Events include miming, dramatic interpretation, solo acting, original oratory and extemporaneous speaking—an event where competitors draw three potential topics out of an envelope and give an off-the-cuff speech with preparation.

The debate topic changes each month, and students must prepare by researching the affirmative and negative sides of the issue. Marks said that students don’t know which side of the debate they will argue until they meet their competitor. The November debate topic asks students whether NATO nations should significantly increase their defense commitments to the Baltic states.

Community members volunteered to judge the events. Saturday’s crop of judges included a state senator, a University of Southeast Alaska professor, local teachers and administrators, City and Borough of Juneau City Assembly members and other volunteers.

Marks said that the atmosphere gets more charged as teams progress through the preliminary elimination rounds to the finals.

Learning and growing

Team members say that the research and prep required for the events make them better students, help them feel heard and provide a community of people who all enjoy public speaking.

“I see the skills that I learn from my debates and speeches and even my occasional acting event shine through in my English assignments especially, but also with how I interact with my teachers and peers every day,” Kylie Morris, a TMHS junior and a team captain.

In a Monday evening email to the Empire, she said participating in the team helps her feel like she has a voice.

“Last season, I wrote a speech on a speech impediment called articulation disorder, which has affected me growing up. This year I decided to tackle the issue of poverty which also has touched pieces of my childhood. Feeling like I have a voice, as well as being able to spread awareness of issues that have affected me personally is one of the main reasons why I love the DDF team.”

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Fellow team captain and TMHS junior Reese Bunten said the community the team offers is the best part of each season.

“I get to see the gears clicking as new debaters learn how to formulate their cases and sharpen their wit to exemplify their positions and become better speakers. It’s also a team that is filled with inside jokes and laughter that are memories I will cherish for years to come,” Bunten said.


Marks said that the tournament was full of outstanding performances and several awards for Juneau’s combined team. Here’s a list of winners:

Acting events

— Solo Acting: Rachel Wood, second place

— Dramatic Interpretation: Madeline Germain, second place

— Duet Acting: Rachel and Kyra Wood, second place

— Humorous Interpretation: Rina Basaliso, fourth place

— Mime: Madeline Germain and Rina Basaliso, second place

Speech Events

— Extemporaneous Speaking: Reese Bunten ,first place

— Original Oratory: Grace Stewart, second place


— Reese Bunten and Devin Moorehead, third place

— Kylie Morris and Ethan Madsen, fifth place

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at or 907-308-4891.

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