Riverton speakers win fourth straight 3-A state championship

May 5, 2020 By Clair McFarland, Staff Writer

Isolation necessitated by coronavirus restrictions didn't stop the Riverton High School speech team from winning the Wyoming Class 3-A state speech and debate championship for the fourth straight year.

Originally scheduled for March 12, the state tournament in Green River was cancelled hours beforehand, as schools around Wyoming dominoed shut due to coronavirus concerns.

"A few miles short of arriving in Rock Springs, (RHS activities director) Reggie Miller called to tell me the meet had been cancelled," remembered head coach Annette Thornton.

The bus pivoted for a long ride back to Riverton over wind-swept roads, with 14 gloomy students who had spent weeks preparing for the tournament.

"The team was stunned, especially our seniors," Thornton told The Ranger. Neither coach nor students had any idea at that point that schools would be shuttered by public health orders through the rest of the school year.

"I told them to hold onto the hope that the tournament could be rescheduled for later in the year," Thornton said.

And it was - but not as expected for the most social of all high school competitions. The Wyoming State Forensics Association sought to reschedule the championship, eventually pairing with University of Wyoming speech coach Matt Liu to organize an online venue, April 22-25.

They beckoned a melting pot of technologized presentation.

Live debates, student congress sessions and extemporaneous speaking events occurred in Zoom meeting "rooms" through remote connection.

The less spontaneous original oratory and interpretation of literature events were prerecorded by each student and submitted to the tournament director. Throughout the week, judges were assigned rounds in which they would respond to and rank competitors.

While the format wasn't the ideal scenario for the state meet, Thornton was pleased that the remote format enabled judges from all over the country to participate.

Event results posted to social media in waves.

"We were very proud and surprised by the outcome this year," said Thornton.

RHS is a Class 3-A speech contender, but rankings within rounds are classless. Overall state champions in individual events can be from any classification.

"So our students compete against some of the biggest speech programs in the state in their events," said Thornton.

Competitors must advance to the semifinal round to score a single point for their teams. In the finals, first-place winners are awarded seven points; second-placers get six points, and so on.

Grand champs

The Wolverines vexed 4-A students while winning the 3-A state championship.

Joseph Thornton is a two-event state champion for Riverton. He took first place in poetry interpretation, rendering a poem titled "Choosing Grace." He walked away from that performance as the National Speech and Debate Association's fourth-ranked poetry competitor in the nation.

He also took first place in dramatic interpretation of literature.

The RHS senior plans to attend the University of Wyoming, pursuing a pre-med degree. According to his mother and coach, he is considering the university's speech and debate team, and he intends to audition for the school's stage productions whenever time allows.

His sister Carolyn Thornton took second in poetry and, with partner Isaac Almejo-Ponce, placed second in duet interpretation. Carolyn Thornton is a sophomore, and Almejo-Ponce is a junior.

Shannyn Kreitzer placed second in humorous interpretation and fourth in duet interp with partner Kaia Tippets.

Savanna Whitehurst placed fifth in program oral interpretation.

Tippets and Elizabeth Pierson made it to the semifinals in poetry interpretation and congressional debate, respectively.

Kylar Bennett ranked in several student congress debate rounds, and Angelique Throckmartin braved the shifting ground of extemporaneous speaking.

Through a different avenue of competition earlier in the year, the Thornton youths, Almejo-Ponce and Pierson all have qualified for the 2020 National Speech and Debate Tournament, originally set for Albuquerque in June.

That event also has been changed to an online format this year.

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