Barlow big mouths to compete in Las Vegas

Speech team set to travel to national tournament
by: John Klicker, Alex Bowman, left, and Anna Austin rehearse a skit based on Peter Pan on Monday, April 28, at Barlow High School as they prepare for national competition.

Anna Austin, a Barlow High senior, and Alex Bowman, a junior, make the perfect duo.

'He has a crush on me,' she says, with a slight smirk.

'It's kind of the other way around,' he replies, as he rolls his eyes.

It's fitting they can't even agree on why they get along so well, given they are members of the Barlow Speech Team, whose members seem to debate everything, including why they clean up at various tournaments.

The team members practice regularly in Room 502 in Barlow, which is filled with dozens of team trophies, won over the decades by the school's outstanding speech teams. Inside this room exists a rarefied world where team members even use their own slang, like 'interps' for interpreters and 'aff' for affirmative.

They speak about a million times faster than your average human being and know more about world politics than most adults. And they do it all for little glory, competing mostly in classrooms, not auditoriums, in front of audiences that consist primarily of other people in the speech-debate community, not huge crowds of admiring supporters.

Their coach, Robyn Rose, notes that the team's relative obscurity is a shame as speech teams are the hidden treasures of not just Barlow, but many high schools. She urged other faculty members to consider attending a tournament. They would be amazed by what they see - students taking on different characters, dropping historical references with ease and uttering polysyllabic words with aplomb.

'I wish that more teachers could see it because we hold our kids to very high standards.'

Anna and Alex exemplify those high standards, having recently taken top honors in the Duo category at the National Forensic League's Northern Oregon district competition at Mt. Hood Community College.

Their efforts earned them a trip to Las Vegas for the League's national tournament June 15-20. Seven of their teammates also qualified for the tournament, the most from any school in Oregon, Rose says.

Anna and Alex are preparing to present a spoof on Peter Pan at the national tournament. The humorous piece calls on the duo to play multiple characters and make pop culture references to Michael Jackson, 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and 'The Little Mermaid.' It's more challenging than it sounds, as the students are not allowed to look at each other or touch each other, in contrast to what two actors would actually do on stage.

'It's hard to get all the choreography down,' Alex says.

Brittany Howard, a freshman, then stands up and performs her humorous interpretation of Keith J. Powell's play 'A Cold Day in Hell.' Like Alex and Anna, Brittany must play several characters and also makes her share of pop references, from 'The Wizard of Oz' to Hillary Clinton, the 'queen of pain and suffering herself.'

Juniors Cameron Nilles and Mitch Dunn are award-winning policy debaters, learning how to both support and oppose such causes as extending aid to Africa.

They argue in favor by pointing out how such aid improves America's image abroad and against by cautioning on the dangers of giving money to corrupt governments.

They also sometimes have to make their points in a rapid fire manner in order to get in as many arguments as possible in the time allotted in a competition. It's dizzying to listen to them speak.

'It doesn't seem very practical in the real world,' Cameron says. 'But the more information you get out there, the more critical skills you learn.'

Mitch adds that he loves to watch students from other schools argue at tournaments, a passion shared by Greg Mills, a junior, who is also developing his expertise in debate as he prepares for Vegas.

'I wouldn't mind being a senator someday,' he says with a smile.


The Barlow Speech Team is raising funds for its June trip to a national tournament by hosting a Speech Night at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 13. The team members will present 80 minutes of material. Donations will be accepted.

For more information, call Robyn Rose at 503-674-5668.

Top Talkers

Twelve Gresham-Barlow School District debate students recently qualified to compete at the National Forensic League's tournament June 15-20 in Las Vegas.

From Barlow High School:

In the Duo category: Anna Austin, 18, senior, and Alex Bowman, 16, junior; Stephanie McCurley, 17, junior, and Rachel Nederhiser, 17, junior.

Humorous Interpretation: Brittany Howard, 15, freshman.

Policy Debate: Cameron Nilles, 17, junior, and Mitch Dunn, 17, junior.

Oratory: Rachel Bracker, 18, senior.

Student Congress: Greg Mills, 17, junior.

From Gresham High School:

Lincoln/Douglas Debate category: Brian Hettinger, 18, senior.

Public Forum: Justin Schultz, 18, senior, and Chris Forrer, 17, junior.

Most of the students qualified at the district competition held in March at Mt. Hood Community College. The Barlow team of Austin and Bowman placed first out of 17 teams at district in the Duo category. The team of Nilles and Dunn placed first out of 15 teams in the Policy Debate category.

Gresham High's Hettinger placed first out of 23 competitors in the Lincoln/Douglas Debate Category.