The Ketchikan High School Drama, Debate and Forensics team recently returned from the state tournament in Juneau with a third-place title — and for a handful of soon-to-be-graduating competitors, the experience was their swan song with Kayhi DDF.
The team consists of over 20 students and is coached by Kayhi government and history teacher David Mitchel.
During the Feb. 13-16 tournament, Kayhi cinched third place, coming in behind South Anchorage High School and the newly named champions of West Anchorage High School.
Seniors Brendan Roof, Jackson Kaye and Carter Thomas all participated in the state tournament, which wrapped their long careers with DDF at Kayhi.
The students recently sat down with the Daily News to share their thoughts about their experiences as long-time DDF competitors.
Thomas has been a member of the team since his sophomore year. He joined after deciding to try out the activity at the urging of his peers.
“We all kind of talked about it as a group of friends and decided to join,” Thomas said.
Roof also joined the team three years ago.
“I was just moving back from Tennessee my sophomore year, and my friend had told me that it would be a really fun class,” he said, adding that his friend left the team soon after they both joined, but Roof chose to stay.
Kaye joined the DDF team two years ago.
“They (Roof and Thomas) were already inside and they were telling me how much fun it was and then that I’d probably be pretty alright at it, because I had some public speaking experience before that, so they persuaded me to join,” Kaye explained.
Outside of DDF, all three students have been involved with Kayhi football. Roof also serves as the Ketchikan School Board student representative, while Thomas is the senior class president. Kaye and Thomas also are involved with the cheer team.
Although all three students keep busy schedules, they stuck with the DDF team — even when the activity was challenging.
“I think my junior year (was hard),” Roof said. “I didn’t want to quit, but I was definitely really upset because my sophomore year I was pretty new, and I had done pretty well in one event, and then when I saw the result of my junior year … I was definitely frustrated at the way I was performing, because it was not meeting the standards of what I had set my sophomore year. But I never wanted to quit, because it does allow you to improve over time if you stick with it.”
Kaye said that he decided to participate on the team for half of his high school career because he was searching for the chance to continue improving himself and his skills as a public speaker.
“For me, it wasn’t necessarily about the competition as much as the opportunity to improve my public speaking skills,” Kaye said. “Even just being in debate for two years, the improvement I’ve seen in that is exponential. It’s uncomparable to what I was before.”
“Every year you have an opportunity to be better,” Thomas said about his reason for sticking with the intensive activity, noting that he never felt like stepping back from the team.
The three Kayhi debaters all remarked that the most recent tournament was a success for Kayhi, although they feel like their individual performances were not their most notable.
They agreed that the biggest success of the season came from a November regional meet hosted by Skagway High School.
“Two Kayhi teams made it to the final debate at one of our regional meets (Skagway); me and Jackson (Kaye) against Jared Valentine and Henry Clark,” Thomas said, referring to two Kayhi team members. “That was super fun, because we had both teams there and it was competitive, but I think it was one of the best events we had.”
“Even though we all did well, … we completely swept that whole (Skagway) meet, taking first and second and third in a lot of different categories,” Roof added. “I think that honestly builds more confidence in yourself than you performing well, when you also see that your teammates are performing well.”
Roof also has enjoyed the chance to continue to hone his skills on the team.
“So, you can see yourself improve or you can see yourself do worse,” Roof explained. “I guess every single year welcomes the idea that you can get better and you can expand your horizons to what DDF can actually give you — either drama, forensics or the debate format. So it allows you to improve and explore, much like they encourage you to do when you get out of high school, so it’s just an early way of expanding what you possibly know.”
While being a part of the Kayhi team came with its triumphs, the students have also experienced disappointments and losses.
Roof remembered that during his frustrating junior year, when he was one rank away from the final speakers’ bracket in the domestic extemporaneous speaking category, he was ultimately bumped out of the race by a slim margin.
“And I was mad, but I saw improvement, especially when it’s a new event for me, and this year, I took third in the whole state,” Roof said. “So that was probably the peak of my whole DDF career, being in the final for state, because that’s something I wanted for the past few years, seeing all the great performances.”
Roof said that winning a debate feels “the best,” even though “it’s, like, five seconds of your whole life.”
Ultimately, his least successful experience with DDF was during a past state tournament, when he presented a speech about professional wrestling, which was very different than topics selected by the other competitors.
“I had a speech that I was so passionate about … when I got to state, I didn’t even breach top 10, just because of how subjective the sport is and how immature the topic might have been,” Roof said.
For Kaye, his lowest moment came when he claimed second place in the public debate forum event during the most recent tournament.
“That was hard, especially looking back on it and realizing that most of that was because of me, like, it wasn’t because of my partner,” Kaye said. “ … Looking back and seeing all the improvements I could have made to that performance, it hurts, I guess.”
Thomas said that even though he “loves the activity so far and it’s been a lot of fun,” he did not do well at the state tournament.
It’s not all about recognition for the students — they also believe that what they have learned will be valuable in their future careers.
Kaye, whose goal is to become a civil engineer, said that DDF taught him a lot about being an organized presenter.
“The organizational aspects and how you learn to organize better — like writing a speech or writing a case — you really learn a lot (about) how to put your thoughts not only into words, but into an organized format that you and other people can understand.”
Thomas plans on pursuing a career related to business, a field he believes relies heavily on the skills he has been honing in DDF.
“I think public speaking and being able to be a leader is super important, and public speaking helps in really any career you’re going to go into, so that’s definitely going to help me in the future,” Thomas said.
Roof would like to work in law or education, because he enjoys making decisions and seeing how those choices are handled.
“I love public speaking and I love seeing the results of what happens when I make a change,” Roof explained. “DDF as a whole has shown that I have the ability to speak up, and when I do, I have support and I have opposition.”
Thomas, Roof and Kaye all recommend the class as a positive experience for incoming Kayhi students, or those who are interested but hesitant to join.
Thomas said that believes there is “something for everyone” in DDF, while Kaye described the activity as “the best thing you can do at our school.”
“Mr. Mitchel says the same thing for every class I’ve had with him, whether it’s government, economics or debate,” Roof said. “He says, ‘This is the most important class of your high school career,’ but I don’t think it’s that cheesy. I think he was actually right when he talks about debate.”