Joco 913

June 24, 2014

Olathe Northwest boasts nation’s top debate speaker

Students from Shawnee Mission, Blue Springs, Lee’s Summit, Liberty and Raymore-Peculiar also shine against America’s best in the National Speech and Debate Tournament.

Considering the crowd she was in, Alaina Walberg would have been OK being the 14th-ranked top debate speaker in last week’s National Speech and Debate Tournament.

“They are,” the 18-year-old Olathe Northwest graduate said of the debating crowd, “the most passionate, the most intelligent, the most engaging people I have ever met.”

But hold on. One by one, the emcee named the top-speaker award winners, starting at 14 and working up. She heard the names of students from all around the country on the stage with her at the Overland Park Convention Center, including some of her local top competitors whom she knew were fabulous.

Her name came last. She was No. 1.

In the moments that followed, she remembers her head abuzz, worried about tripping on her heels and dropping the ridiculously large trophy in her arms.

Her award, honoring her performance with debate teammate Mackenzie Luman, marked strong performances in speech and debate by many Kansas City-area individuals and teams competing among some 3,300 of the nation’s top competitors.

Shawnee Mission East High School’s Henry Walter — matched with his brother, Karl — won third place in the top speaker rankings and the Walter team took fourth place in policy debate.

East schoolmate Ali Dastjerdi took seventh in the top speaker rankings, teamed with Shrushti Mehta — all contributing to Shawnee Mission East’s designation as one of the tournament’s Debate Schools of Excellence.

Blue Springs High School earned recognition as one of the Speech Schools of Excellence. Liberty High School was one of the Speech Schools of Honor.

Lee’s Summit North High School’s Benjamin Gruenbaum took first in the nation in Humorous Interpretation. Another area student — Blake Knapp of Blue Springs High School — took second place.

Blue Springs High’s Lyric Davis and Samuel Moore took second place in Duo Interpretation, and Reuben Hoyle of Blue Springs South High School won third place in Dramatic Interpretation.

Andrea Ambam of Raymore-Peculiar High School won first in the nation in Original Oratory.

Haley Brown of Liberty High School took third place in Expository Speaking.

The strong performance of area teams, with the tournament coming to their home turf, made it particularly gratifying, Walberg said. She noted that the East Kansas District debate teams, with her score, the two Shawnee Mission East top speakers’ scores and the ninth-place finish of Newton, Kan., High School’s James Davis, put four speakers in the Top 10.

“It’s awesome to see how competitive our district is,” she said. “We represented our state well.”

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to

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