MORRIS – The past year or so has included one challenge after another for nearly everyone. But one group of young people has met and overcome all its challenges, and it continued to do so this weekend.
The Morris Community High School speech team made history by sending every student it had in the IHSA Washington Sectional to the state competition. In the process, the team won the sectional title, the second such title in school history. The week prior, Morris hosted the regional and won that title as well.
In a normal year, the students would perform in a classroom with an audience and judges, but COVID-19 restrictions forced this year’s competitions to be held virtually over Zoom.
“This shows how hard the kids have worked and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Morris coach Andrea Gustafson said. “Not only that, but there are no class divisions in speech, so they are going up against much larger schools that have a larger number of coaches. I just tell them to go out and do their best, and they really did a great job.”
Morris got first-place finishes from Kenzie Puckett in dramatic interpretation, Alex Duffy in extemporaneous speaking, Puckett and Emma Knudson in humorous duet acting, Lauren Bounds in oratorical declamation, Sofia Best in special occasion speaking and the entire team for performance in the round; second-place finishes from Duffy and Molly Gustafson in dramatic duet acting, Nicholas Russell in humorous interpretation, Knudson in informative speaking, Gustafson in prose reading and Reagan McDaniel in radio speaking; and thirds from Keaton Auwerda in original comedy, Tessa Brummel in original oratory and Andrea Barron in poetry reading.
“We have a lot of kids with a lot of experience,” Andrea Gustafson said. “We have five seniors [Duffy, Molly Gustafson, Barron, McDaniel and Auwerda], five juniors [Puckett, Knudson, Bounds, Russell and Brummel] and a sophomore [Best]. This is just the second sectional title we have ever won and the most entries we have ever sent to state. The previous best was eight.”
The state competition will be held this Friday and Saturday. Again, the competition, which would normally have been held at the Peoria Civic Center, will be conducted virtually over Zoom. Gustafson said there will not be a link to the competition, but a link to the awards presentations will be sent out by the IHSA.
The Morris team took part in its first meet before Thanksgiving and has taken part in nine competitions this season. They have captured first place in seven of those events.
“We have had a great year,” said Molly Gustafson, one of the two team captains along with Duffy. “We didn’t know what to expect this year, but we have so much talent. There are people from every class standing out.
“It has been different not being able to perform in front of people. For our partner events, we can’t even be in the same room as our partners, so we have had to adjust to that, too. We’ve had to navigate all the technology we have been using, so there has definitely been some learning this year. Luckily, we have a lot of people with a lot of experience, so that has helped us.”
While most of the competitors perform the same presentation at each competition, those in extemporaneous events must come up with new speeches every time out, sometimes two or three times.
“We get a question, then we have 30 minutes to write a six- or seven-minute speech about it,” Duffy said. “It definitely comes with its own difficulties, but I love doing it. I plan on going into policy or law, so I hope that it’s good preparation for that. I have met a lot of super smart people while doing it.”
Both captains feel that the Morris team has a good shot at returning home with some medals from the state competition and are proud of being a part of school history.
“It definitely gets harder the further you go in the state competition,” Molly Gustafson said. “The coaches said that the sectional was still like a competition, but when we get to state, it’s more like a celebration. We just want to do our best and see what happens.”
Duffy still has his eyes on the prize.
“We feel like we are part of the best team in MCHS history,” he said. “I know I want to make it into the finals and come home with some medals and a trophy. Our coaches say that being at state is kind of like a victory lap, but we still want to do our best and leave it all out there. We can’t leave it on a stage, so I guess we’ll have to leave it all out on Zoom.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle