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LAHS students talk way to national tournament

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By Kirsten Laskey

Like display cases in school hallways stuffed with ribbons and trophies representing student athletes’ victories and triumphs, the Los Alamos High School Hilltalkers have a few crowded trophy cases of their own in the school’s Speech Theater.

In June, the speech and debate team might be adding to the collection.

Seven Hilltalkers will travel June 14-19 to Birmingham, Ala., to compete in the National Forensic League’s National Tournament.  

The prizes for the winners is more than just a shiny trophy, the tournament will also reward more than $130,000 in college scholarships.

Los Alamos students will compete in several categories. For instance, Jake Mayson and Ashlynn Daughton will participate in Duo Interpretation.

Ryan Marcus and Ben Batha along with Arik Burakovsky and Gannon Nelson will compete in Policy Debate and Daniel Cox will participate in the Lincoln/Douglas Debate.

To get to this point, these seven Hilltalkers had to get a first or second place finish in the National Qualifer, which was held March 26-28 at Albuquerque Academy.

They succeeded with flying colors.

Mayson and Daughton finished first in their category, Marcus and Batha earned second place in their category while Burakovsky and Nelson were given first place and Cox earned first place in his debate.

These seven were not the only Hilltalkers to compete in the National Qualifer. Gina Stroud and Sydney Sivils competed in the Public Forum Debate, Brooke Stuedell participated in the Lincoln Douglas Debate along with Emma Carroll and Seth Katz and William Phillips competed in Policy Debate.

Katz and Phillips were qualified as alternates in Policy Debate.

The opportunity to keep on the national level is something all seven Hilltalkers are eager to accept.

“I’m pysched,” Mayson said. He added he has been working since freshman year to travel to the National Tournament.

“I’m really excited,” Doughton said. “I think it’s a great opportunity.”

“We’ve worked hard and sweated to get there,” Batha added. “It will be a lot of fun.”

This is only Batha’s second year on the debate team and he noted it is rare for a newcomer to go to nationals.

While Batha is new to the tournament, Burakovsky and Nelson are experienced competitors. This will be their second year at the National Tournament. Burakovsky said he and his partner, Nelson, are very excited about the competition.

“We think we’ll be more ready this year,” he said.

Nelson said the competition is full of opportunity, not just to win a trophy but to gain the attention of colleges.

“I’m really excited about it,” Cox said. He joked that Noel Trujillo, the co-sponsor of the Hilltalkers, promised to get a tattoo if they win.

So what got this group to this point? A lot of hard work and practice.

“It’s just a lot of practice,” Daughton said. “Just figuring out what works for you.”

The Hilltalkers dedicated a lot of hours and weeks preparing their speeches. And the payoff is being able to compete at the national level.

“The most exciting part is to get to go Nationals,” Daughton said. “We’ll go and have fun and work hard … winning is no longer the absolute objective … because we’ve gotten to Nationals.”

However, Burakovsky joked that he wants to be seen on ESPN.

In addition to practices, the Hilltalkers observed speech and debate competitions in Dallas, Greenhill, Ind., and Las Vegas, Nev.

 “They are hard-working, ambitious, committed,” Trujillo said. “They love to debate and argue. It’s been a passion for them so it was just right that their efforts paid off and allowed them to go to nationals.”

This year marks a milestone for the Hilltalkers. Trujillo said seven is the most students Los Alamos High School has had at the National Tournament.  

During his time at the school, 35 students have qualified for the National Tournament.

“We’re proud of it,” Margo Batha, co-sponsor of the Hilltalkers said. “We’re proud of our kids.”

While the students have earned the right to get to nationals, they are looking for some financial support to pay for it.

Batha said the cost to attend the tournament is $850 per student.

Donations are accepted and if people are interested, call Trujillo at 663-2639.