By Helena Rodriguez, PNT Staff Writer
Christian Townsend is learning the art of “polite” persuasion by watching C-SPAN and the technicalities of structuring a powerful deliverance by studying Martin Luther King Jr’s famous, “I Have a Dream” speech.
Townsend is one of four Portales High School students who have qualified to compete in the National Speech Tournament in Las Vegas, Nev., in June. Under the sponsorship of Becky Walker and Martha Crane, PHS seniors, Daniel Perez and Sunny Liu will compete in duo interpretation. Townsend will compete in student congress and Joe Sisneros will compete in dramatic interpretation.
According to Walker, this is the first time since 2005 that a PHS student has qualified for nationals and this is the largest number of students who have qualified for nationals in as long as speech and debate team sponsor, Crane, can remember.
“Our students are extremely dedicated and hard-working. They also work well together as a team,” Walker said, adding, “They are definitely leaders in our school.”
Walker noted that in high school speech & debate competitions, schools do not compete against each other according to size, like in athletics. All schools, large and small, compete in the same tournaments.
Sisneros said, “There are 14 speech teams in the state and we’re the only team from south or east of Albuquerque that competes.”
Sisneros has been offered a scholarship and chance to compete in the Eastern New Mexico University debate team next fall.
Townsend said that students don’t “win” speech tournaments per se. “You survive it!” He pointed out.
Townsend, a second-year speech team participant, is considering a future career in politics and said he tunes into C-SPAN and pays particular attention to how speeches are structured. He said he definitely turns to MLK’s famous speech as a perfect model.
“The first 10 minutes of the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech was prepared and memorized, but the last part of it was done on the cuff,” Townsend said.
Meanwhile, other speech competitors, Perez and Liu, said they get a lot of their inspiration from former PHS speech and debate participants, namely Orlando Shelly, Charles Britton and Marley Armstrong.
Perez said the team has put in countless hours and now their hard work is paying off.
“With a partnered event, it helps to choose your partner wisely because you will be dependent on them for the year,” Perez said. “If one of us misses a line, we cover for each other.”
On the national level, Perez said the goal is to make it past the first eliminations cut in which 40 teams are knocked out. He said eliminations happens after six rounds. The team will be burning a lot of midnight oil, and watching a lot of C-SPAN, as they prepare for nationals.