Judges needed to help with hundreds of competitors

By Shawn O’Brate, Staff Writer

RIVERTON – During the first weekend of February Riverton will be hosting one of the biggest events that the high school has ever had the opportunity to host, and no it’s not a basketball tournament, it’s not a cheerleading competition, but rather it’s something a little more intellectual and academic. 

Riverton will host one of the largest speech and debate tournaments that the state will see outside the regional and state tournaments later on this season. Over 550 speech and debate student participants will fill the halls of Riverton High School (RHS) on February 3-4 in what could be the largest speech competition, even more than the final competitions. 

“Typically the state gets split into East and West. Each side will have a tournament somewhere on their own but we are in the middle and we’re getting both sides to come here for one weekend,” Hall of Fame Coach Annette Thornton said. 

Riverton’s speech and debate team, which placed first in Worland this past weekend, will have the special opportunity to not only host this tournament but they will be able to learn different traits that make the club such a privilege to be on. 

“It helps them both with a sense of responsibility and a sense of service, because we are doing a service to the whole speech community,” Margaret Murray, a returning speech coach at RHS said about hosting. “Speech only works if we each take a part in hosting tournaments and making the opportunity available.”

Coach Murray was not only speaking about the students taking part in hosting, but also the dire need for more judges from around Riverton and the rest of Fremont County for the upcoming tournament. With so many students coming to the center of Riverton for the meet it will be hard for coach Thornton, coach Murray and the rest of the speech and debate team to handle the number of debaters and speakers, so they’re asking for help from the community. 

“You do not need any speech and debate expertise, nor understanding,” the entry form for judges states. “You just require a desire to watch incredibly talented students and we will help you with everything else.”

This is a rare opportunity for not only the RHS speech and debate team, but everybody in the town of Riverton and the entire county as many people around Fremont County have let the RHS team go under the radar despite their massively talented team and coaching staff, that has led to state tournament runs and countless trophies. 

“We’ve got some real talented freshmen, sophomores that have put a lot of work in in the past, and we’ve won three of the five tournaments we’ve gone to this year,” Coach Thornton said as she sat next to a table full of trophies. “We’re super young but super talented.”

Not only are the students just as talented and capable as the large number of seniors that were on the team last year, including Coach Thornton’s accomplished daughter, but they are led by a coaching staff with decades of experience and they know that they are feared because of their hall of fame coach and history. 

“They’re happy to get a break from us I’m sure,” Coach Thornton said about the teams coming to RHS. “They see Riverton in their rounds and … they’re afraid of Riverton. They respect these guys a lot, they know they’re good quality and tough competition.”

“I feel like we have a different vibe this year. We had a group of mostly seniors last year and now it’s a bigger group of us,” Adriyanna Potter said about the new group of speakers and debaters. 

The kids also know that they are looked up to during most weeks because of who their coach is, and they believe that being coached by her from freshman year onward is a huge advantage to their competition as well as their future.

“I don’t think we can say how grateful we are, sincerely,” Ashtin Griffin, a duo interpreter said about Coach Thornton. “When people ask ‘Why is Riverton so good?’ I just say, we kind of have the best coach ever.”

“She tries to give everyone a job and make everyone feel connected,” Potter said. “It’s a great environment to work with.” 

In the end it’s just an amazing club to be a part of, and not just because the students are coached by some of the best in Wyoming, but because speech and debate provides so much intellectually as well as providing more options for after high school.

“It enhances your ability to think critically, it exercises your mind and it helps you grow your ability to read, write, think and prepares kids with amazing skills to go on in college and career and is really helpful for getting scholarships,” Coach Murray said. 

“It teaches you a lot of the things you’re going to need to know in your life,” sophomore Riley Walker said before she practiced her speech. “If you’re ever a boss in your company you’re going to need to give some speeches of what is going on in the future, that is a lot like informative speaking, and oratory is good for persuading a bunch of people. A lot of politicians and motivational speakers did speech and debate in high school.”

You can experience these young student-athletes in their prime as they help host one of the biggest tournaments of the year next week. If you, or someone you know, is interested in judging these competitions go to the Ranger or WyoToday Facebook page and scroll down to see the post seeking judges.