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West Valley City Journal

Granger High Sends Qualifiers to Nationals in Salt Lake

May 05, 2016 05:17PM ● By Bryan Scott

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

West Valley - The Lancers are going to Nationals. And it’s their words that qualified them. 

Six members of the Granger High Debate team qualified for two different national tournaments occurring in Sacramento and just down the street in Salt Lake City. 

“It’s a really great opportunity for the kids,” Granger High School debate teacher Corey Tuckness said. 

Typically, debate teams are thought of as two groups going against each other. While that type of debate exists, there are around 20 different debate categories with the majority of them as individual speeches. Granger’s debate team focuses on the speeches or individual performances. 

Tuckness said to fill a state team requires at least 28 kids. He only has 20.

“We don’t have that many, but the ones we do have are really good,” he said. 

Six of those team members will participate in the 2016 National Speech and Debate Tournament on June 12–17 in Salt Lake City, while three will travel to Sacramento, California, for the National Catholic Forensic League Grand National Tournament on May 28–29. 

The six who qualified are Jelena Dragicevic, Angel Herrera, Leila Mujic, Nelson Lotz, Katreena Panotes and Sergio Ramirez, while the three also heading to Sacramento are Dragicevic, Lotz and Panotes. 

Team members qualified through each competition’s specific qualifying tournaments at Juan Diego and Jordan High Schools. 

Being part of the debate team carries special connotations for the kids, as it offers them the opportunity to speak about their passions. 

Dragicevic, Herrera and Mujic come from parents born in different countries. This plays a role in the speeches they share.

Dragicevic, a freshman whose parents moved to America from war-torn Yugoslavia in 1998, said she appreciates having a national platform to share her message. 

“I get to use it to represent people from my country and the situation that happened with former Yugoslavia,” Dragicevic said. 

With the history of former Yugoslavia not common knowledge to people, Dragicevic said its important she has the opportunity to share it. 

“I think it’s really powerful that we get to share our frame of reference to people to at least know about it,” Dragicevic said. “Even though they might not agree, they can at least know the information, and it’s an honor to be in that position.”

Dragicevic performs her speech on immigration in the declamation category where speakers deliver speech originally performed by someone else such as Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech. 

Herrera, youngest in a family of five, performs in the oratory category where the speaker has to persuade the judges. Herrera’s speech is on funding for the arts, the personal story he wants to tell.

Herrera, a self-proclaimed “theatre geek,” said he fights for the arts because of his experience. 

“I was in a gang, and I was doing these terrible things, and what saved my life was theater,” Herrera, a senior preparing for graduation, said. “If you give these kids something to do or something to be passionate about, they won’t do these things.”

Herrera, who said he treats his speech almost like a slam poem, has won multiple awards in events throughout the year, all through telling his story about having a resource for kids to go to. 

Tuckness, a teacher of drama and debate for 42 years, said he feels really good about Herrera’s chances. 

“Very seldom has anyone from Utah won or made it very far,” Tuckness said. “But if anybody that I’ve had over 42 years has a chance to make it, its Angel.”

Mujic’s parents also came from former Yugoslavia and performs her informative speech on global warming. 

Mujic, a freshman, said what led to her feeling passionate about the environment comes from her family life. 

“My parents love gardening, and I helped garden with them, and it just taught me to love the environment,” Mujic said. “It got me really passionate about it because I don’t like seeing people harm our environment simply because it gets them more money.” 

Mujic also participates in the impromptu category, where the speaker is given a topic then has two minutes to prepare their speech. Mujic has received topics anywhere from Brussel sprouts to the Zika virus. 

Infected with camaraderie, the team has spent the school year in the same class and together at various events. Even though their competitions are individual, Herrera said having the team around provides necessary stress relief. 

“As a group, we all come together and have jokes and laugh before our next round because that’s a stress reliever,” Dragicevic said. 

Amy Brewerton, a senior team member, said even though she isn’t going to Nationals, it’s special to be a part of this group.

“Even if you’re not winning trophies, you’re still seeing other people succeed, and it makes you feel really good,” Brewerton said. “It’s just as satisfying as if it were me.”

The team will compete once more at a rotary club event in May before they begin preparing for their national tournaments.