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Crater’s championship duo

Crater High School juniors Katie Furrer, left, and Kiana Hall teamed up last week to claim the first speech and debate state championship since the team was revived by head coach Kristen Sullivan five years ago. The teammates and friends placed first in duo interpretation for their performance of a piece called, "Open to Interpretation."(photo by Julie Furrer).
Crater duo claims state title, leads team to second-place finish

Months ago, before they committed themselves to hours upon hours of after-school practice, Kiana Hall and Katie Furrer had an important decision to make: how exactly did they want to spend all that free time? Or, more specifically, what skit should they perform in the duo interpretation category of the Oregon School Activities Association Class 5A speech and debate state championships?

Teammates and friends, Hall and Furrer – both juniors at Crater High – knew that comedic pieces historically haven’t scored well at state compared to dramatic pieces. So if they wanted to place high, they reasoned, they’d probably have to squeeze out a few tears and get serious. Any other year, that likely would have been the deciding factor. Not this year.

“We really wanted something to lift our spirits during the pandemic, instead of doing a dramatic, heart-wrenching speech,” Hall said. “This entire year our speech was more so focused on just having fun, hanging out. … And it worked out for us.”

Trading sappiness for zaniness and sniffles for giggles, Hall and Furrer nailed their 10-minute recorded skit called “Open for Interpretation” to bring home Crater’s first state title since coach Kristen Sullivan revived the program five years ago, leading the Comets to second place overall Saturday in the Class 5A sweepstakes. Also for Crater, Hall placed sixth in poetry and junior Adam Moeglein seventh in extemporaneous speaking, as the Comets delivered their best team showing at state since Sullivan took over.

“I am just very, very proud of the kids,” Sullivan said. “The whole COVID thing has been really tough on everyone and high school is such a brief amount of time. It feels like it’s taking forever when you’re there but then you realize when you get older just how brief those years are. So for these kids to miss out on so much is very hard and a lot of kids are struggling. But to take the time after you’ve done online school all day to write speeches and practice debate and do more academic work, it’s truly a remarkable student who will do that.”

Like just about everything else school-related in Oregon, the OSAA speech and debate state championships this year were altered by COVID-19 protocols. Rather than a live, in-person performance, Hall and Furrer performed “Open for Interpretation” separately in front of cameras in side-by-side classrooms so they could hear each other’s verbal cues. A genre-mash-up take on the classic fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel,” “Open for Interpretation” allowed Crater’s duo team to play with a wide range of storytelling styles – detective noire, vaudeville, soap opera, Shakespeare and the classic tale itself were all represented.

Describing parts of the piece, Furrer rolled her Rs as tight as a sleeping bag before deftly transitioning to her dramatically sappy soap opera voice.

“So I think,” she said, “with all those different roles we were able to put a lot enthusiasm into it and figure out a lot more voices for them … that allowed for a lot more creativity, which allowed us to play with it more.”

Hall and Furrer burned through dozens of takes before finally getting the one they wanted, then shot it off to the OSAA for judging. With the pressure off, they made a friendly wager. Hall thought their performance was a pretty good take and figured they were a shoe in for fourth place, maybe even third. Furrer was even more optimistic and guessed second or third.

The final places were announced Saturday live on YouTube. Hall was glued to a screen as the results came in, but Furrer was busy wrapping up a shift at Wash N’ Go Depot and had no idea what happened until she received a text from her duos partner at closing time.

“We were counting money and I heard my phone go off and I looked at it and I was like, ’Oh, yeah,’” Furrer said.

The newly crowned state champions celebrated their unexpected victory by popping some chocolate-covered coffee beans at The Human Bean Monday.

“Katie and I are really close friends, and we’ve always invested ourselves in these kind of dynamic duo kind of things, just on our own outside of speech and debate,” Hall said. “And I think with that take specifically … we were just super in-the-zone, we used our camera to the best of our ability, we remembered our lines and it felt like the very first time we read the script everything was just hilarious. We had a lot of fun and I think that was the main point. Having fun really brought the piece through.”

Hall, who is Crater’s team captain, performed a mash-up of several poems to place sixth in that category and has now qualified for state the last three years, though last year’s event was canceled.

“She’s just really an awesome leader, an amazing human being and very, very talented in speech and debate,” Sullivan said.

Moeglein qualified for state in three different events — extemporaneous speaking, parliamentary debate and impromptu speaking — and technically qualified for a fourth event in which he did not compete. He’ll be competing in congressional debate at nationals (Hall and Furrer also qualified for nationals).

For extemporaneous speaking, considered by Sullivan to be the ultimate speech and debate event, students choose a topic, then have 30 minutes to plan a seven-minute speech about that topic, all from memory.

“And they even use direct quotes that they have to properly cite in the speech, by memory,” Sullivan said. “It is very challenging.”

The speech and debate national championships will be held remotely, June 13-19.

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.