Skip to main content

Holladay Journal

Cottonwood forensics teams heads to nationals after successful season

May 29, 2022 12:40PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

There was no fan section that exploded when Cottonwood’s forensics team claimed victory at the regional tournament in February.

Nor were there any cheers like when a goal is scored or a basket is made as the team claimed the second-place trophy the next month at state, but through the years, the Colts speech and debate team has built a legacy.

Now that momentum continues as students are preparing for the National Speech and Debate Association that will be held June 12-17 in Louisville, Kentucky.

“It will be a good capstone to our extremely successful year,” Cottonwood forensics adviser Adam Wilkins said. “Our kids are really remarkably talented and what makes it so great is the fact that the majority of kids do all the heavy lifting, which from a personal standpoint for them, is so satisfying. We have a lot of student coaches, and we rely a lot on the kids to coach each other, especially our senior kids helping our underclassmen, and they really pulled it out of the park. That’s what you want for your team so it can sustain a legacy of success. We definitely have a legacy of success—and that’s so awesome. Just to know we have great kids in the wings, ready to jump in, is so incredible. We’re just fortunate to keep attracting these students who want to be good.”

It's a legacy that has lasted for more than five decades.

“Since the school has been built in 1970, speech and debate has always been in the top three for region. It’s pretty remarkable,” Wilkins said.

It starts in the classroom where students will research topics and spend hours practicing it for one another.

“They’ve talked about anything from national and international crises, so prevalent and relevant these days, to some state and local issues. Our orators have amazing topics and there is a great range from the benefits of anger to tribal law and the way Native Americans are portrayed. They’ve discussed ranked-choice voting, local bills, national bills, Supreme Court decisions, COVID, recession, Russian aggression. The great thing about debate is it allows these students to really engage in the world,” he said.

Wilkins not only teaches them skills, but also trust.

“The bottom line is we trust kids and they trust each other. We trust them to be captains of events. I love the idea that kids can be student captains and then the success of an event is on the shoulders of those captains. We have some amazing event captains this year. That tradition of our success is handed down from our upperclassmen to our underclassmen,” he said.

It's also about attitude.

“I always tell the kids I will never be mad if you don’t win, but I will be mad if you don’t try. That’s a life lesson, you know, to be the best they can and that’s a good thing,” Wilkins said.

While some tournaments have been held in-person, others still remain virtual. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he taught students how to communicate with their eyes since some expressions were hidden under masks and body language was limited.

“The students are taking some of those skills that they naturally developed during the pandemic, and then with their diction and articulation, they’ve become better speakers all the way around,” he said.

That has led to Cottonwood’s team competing well all season.

“We’ve really been dominating all year and have won about half dozen local tournaments,” Wilkins said about his 32-team member mostly speech team. “It’s a quite competitive region and it’s definitely a competitive state, which is nice because you don’t want to win without any competition because that victory would be a little hollow so it’s nice to win a hard thought victory.”

Wilkins attributes the success of the program to the students themselves.

“They practice for each other and model what they want to do in nationals,” he said. “They want them ready to be able to present and not lose a step and they want to get better, each and every tournament. The first thing they do when they get a ballot back is talk about what can they do to become better, they see what are some successes, and what are the takeaways that they can learn from in this process. It’s another life lesson they’re learning which they can apply after their debate career.”

Wilkins is proud of his team.

“These kids are geniuses; they truly are. There are times when they say things that truly takes my breath away. It’s not just because of their intelligence, but also for their charisma and their intuitiveness,” he said. “What I love about debate is that it allows kids to be smart and it celebrates kids being smart. Several of these young adults—and they’re not children—are being told that their opinions matter, not just their ideas, but their opinions; and that’s what debate can provide you.”


Top Cottonwood’s state 5A forensics results:

Co-champion, Matthew Cessna, student congress

Co-champion, Sydney Pomeranz, student congress

1st, Abriel Tuckness, combined interpretation

1st, Hannah Zoulek, foreign Extemporaneous Speaking

1st, Ryan Dillon, foreign Extemporaneous Speaking

2nd, Taycia Linford Perez, combined interpretation

2nd, Kate Wilkins, student congress

2nd, Nizhoni Tsosie, informative

3rd, Alaa Elsir, informative

4th, Justen Powell, informative

4th, Jackson Kirkwood, national Extemporaneous Speaking

5th, Nex Lerwick, combined interpretation

6th, Hannah Zoulek, foreign Extemporaneous Speaking

Octos, Valery Tomadakis, Lincoln-Douglas debate