Like seemingly everything else, the virus took its toll not only on the East Mountain High School speech and debate team, but on the endeavor statewide.

Although the program had a long and proud history, the Timberwolves group had become a shell of what it once had been.

But with significant effort and perseverance, the program is on the rebound with about 30 students this school year.

“Over the last two years the team has been rebuilding and growing,” said coach Adelynn Nee. “This year our team is the biggest it has been since pre-Covid.”

The group recently sent 17 students to the Navajo Prep Atsa Invitational in Farmington, coming away with five first-place winners, three runners up and two third-place finishers.

“Speech and debate is an activity that thrives on student interaction and engagement,” Nee said. “Over the last five years as we have been rebuilding our team and have been seeking opportunities to engage in new and exciting competition environments. The Navajo Prep Tournament was the perfect place to do this. We are so proud of the way our students represented our school.”

Getting a chance to test their skills in front of an audience was invaluable, said sophomore Grayson Oakleaf, who took first in Informative Speaking and second in United States Extemporaneous.

“The Navajo Prep tournament provided a view into their culture that cannot be obtained in any other way,” he said. “The culture night was a lot of fun and was very informative. The tournament was run really well and the judging was excellent. My feedback made sense and I got good comments. It was overall a great tournament and it was unique from any other tournament I’ve been too.”

Sophomore Miller Millea was tops in both Declamation and United States Extemporaneous and found the event rewarding far beyond the actual competition.

“My experience at Navajo Prep was filled with amazing interactions, experiences and meeting new people,” Millea said. “The Friday Culture Night was a fantastic way to get to know Navajo Prep before we started the tournament. That night filled with great food and activities was like no other Speech and Debate tournament. Everyone who spoke gave a great explanation of what Navajo Prep is like and their words were the truth. On Saturday, the student lounge was full and everyone was exited and ready to compete.”

Other first-place awards went to James Padilla in Senate Congressional Debate and Lily Lybarger for Original Oratory, while also taking the top novice honor.

 “It’s was an incredible opportunity for our students to build cultural competency, and their speaking skills at the same time,” assistant coach Atalie Brown said. “We have such a bright and enthusiastic group of students this year, and it was wonderful to see that get recognized.”