When southern Kenai Peninsula schools entered the high-risk category for community spread of COVID-19, in-person sports and activities had to cease. Those groups that can practice and compete virtually with no risk of potentially transmitting the virus, however, have been able to forge ahead into an uncharted territory of high school activities.
Homer High School’s Drama, Debate and Forensics team is just such a group. Now practicing and competing via Zoom, the team just wrapped up its first virtual meet against Anchorage area schools the weekend of Oct. 23-24. Coach Marjorie Dunn said the transition has not been easy, but that the team members are working hard and grateful to still be competing.
The Alaska School Activities Association had originally canceled all state championship events for the rest of the year. The organization allowed regional championships to continue as long as they were contained within individual geographic regions.
When it came to activities like DDF, Esports and rifle competitions, ASAA ruled that those events could continue, as long as they could be done virtually, but that they could only be held through Nov. 21.
This week, ASAA updated its ruling to allow DDF events to continue through Christmas break, said Homer High Athletic Director Chris Perk.
Before schools on the southern peninsula reached high risk and closed to in-person education, triggering an end to in-person sports and activities, the DDF team had already gotten an in-person event under its belt when it hosted the team from Seward. The ability to have that event and practice face to face as a team for the first part of the season is something that gave the team an advantage heading into virtual competition, Dunn said.
Having that in-person time at the beginning of the year was invaluable to being able to build the team, she said. Other schools, like those in Anchorage, have been participating virtually the whole time.
There are some things that get lost in a virtual tournament, Dunn said — the connection with judges in the room, being able to play off an audience, and certain timing cues that are easier in person. There’s also just the networking and relationship building students do between their individual events. Team member Thea Person said she was disappointed to learn she wouldn’t get to reunite in person with her friends in Anchorage through the activity.
A sophomore, Person is in her second year on the team. She competes in humorous interpretation, readers theater and extemporaneous commentary. She described the virtual competitions as “the second best thing.”
There are different things to think about in an online environment, Person said. Is her microphone on? Is her WiFi connection working? Is her video transmitting well? These are compared to the normal concerns of a DDF competition like finding the right room and getting to events on time.
“But it was still really fun to be able to compete and dress up like we do for a normal tournament,” Person said.
Senior Larry Dunn said his events, Lincoln Douglas debate and extemporaneous speaking, weren’t quite as negatively impacted by the virtual format as some of the more dramatic events can be. With less acting, he doesn’t rely as much on feeding off audience reaction in the room.
“The transition was definitely a little jarring at first,” he said of the virtual competition.
The team is starting to adjust now, he said, but there are still aspects missing. In particular for Larry Dunn are the networking that happens at an in-person tournament, and the atmosphere that comes with a large competition. DDF creates an intellectual curiosity that he said feels diluted in the online format.
Other, smaller things are different now too. Taking tournaments to the virtual world changes how you address your judge and opponent, Larry Dunn said.
“A lot of the smaller social etiquette, particularly within debate, has to be kind of re-learned,” he said.
Both he and Person said they’re grateful that tournaments can still happen. They both noted how hard DDF coaches are working to pull it off for the students.
Marjorie Dunn said the Homer teammates, too, are dedicated.
“Some of them are putting in over an hour a day,” she said.
While competing virtually is not easy, she said there are some interesting and positive aspects. As a coach, she said she can view more performances by more students during a tournament than she would normally be able to in person, because now it’s just a matter of hopping from one virtual room to another. The amount of judge feedback the team got back after the Anchorage virtual tournament was also more comprehensive than what students normally get. Competitors are normally handed a piece of paper with just their scores and notes; after the virtual competition, Marjorie Dunn said the team got 300 pages of judge feedback for the entire tournament, not just the Homer team.
There is another virtual tournament being hosted by Anchorage schools scheduled for Nov. 6-7.
The following are the Homer High results from the October tournament:
Eleanor Sweeney – first place Dramatic Interpretation
Lacie Triem – second place Dramatic Interpretation
Clara Stading – third place Dramatic Interpretation
Thea Person – second place Humorous Interpretation
First place Readers Theater goes to Eleanor Sweeney, Lexie Sweeney, Lacie Triem, Hadley Glidden, Bryce Glidden, and Thea Person
Lincoln Douglas Debate
Larry Dunn – first place Lincoln Douglas Debate
Emma Sulczynski – Lincoln Douglas Debate quarterfinalist
Payton Tobin – Lincoln Douglas Debate quarterfinalist
Spencer Co – Lincoln Douglas Debate quarterfinalist
Hadley Glidden – Lincoln Douglas Debate quarterfinalist
Lincoln Douglas Speaker Points
Larry Dunn – first place Lincoln Douglas Debate speaker points
Spencer Co – fourth place Lincoln Douglas Debate speaker points
Payton Tobin – fifth place Lincoln Douglas Debate speaker points
Larry Dunn – second place Domestic Extemporaneous Speaking
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.