Triumph of the middle schoolers: They take on high school drama, debate tournament

HARLINGEN — A group of Vela Middle School students took on a high school Speech, Drama, and Debate tournament and walked away with the third-place Sweepstakes Award.

Leah Ann Ince, instructional coach for Speech, Drama, and Debate for the Harlingen school district, said this was a first on so many levels.

“I can tell you that a middle school winning a sweepstakes at a high school tournament is something I have not seen in my 26 years as an educator,” she said.

“It’s pretty rare to see middle school students beating high school students. That group of kids is some of the most focused groups I have seen in awhile.”

Vela’s 13 competitors performed in a variety of events including novice poetry, novice prose, humorous interpretation and oratory. They competed against middle schoolers and even experienced high school students from 16 schools. Many of the students took semi-finalist spots.

Their coaches, Jason Isquierdo and Yvette Connell, expressed pride and admiration for their students.

“They’re a very dedicated and talented group of kids,” Connell said. “We just started this initiative this year and they have been competing throughout the school year. The majority of these kids, it’s a new activity for them and they’ve just taken to it and worked so incredibly hard.”

The district launched an initiative this year to create speech, drama and debate programs at the middle school level. There had already been some drama activities at those schools, but the initiative now gives middle schoolers the chance to compete against high schoolers.

“I think in the district, obviously putting this initiative in place has made a huge difference for the middle schools,” Ince said. “It encouraged and supported these kids competing at the high school level. The whole point of it was so they could learn from it. Getting a Sweepstakes was never in the plan.”

“I think I did pretty good. I competed against a variety of people and it was a good experience. We were facing juniors and seniors.” He didn’t allow himself to be intimidated by the older competitors. “I just looked at them like they were other middle schoolers.”

Matthew Heep, 14.

“I know I made a lot of eye contact and my composure was good.” Her piece was called “Missing Natalie,” which she performed at last year’s event. She was surprised she took first place. “I didn’t think I did that well.”

Aaron Blount, 13, took first place in novice poetry

while competing against older, more experienced students.

“I was pretty surprised. I think the visual presentations made the difference.” She’d put up posters and white boards to illustrate her points about the diversity of the VISA program. “Many others didn’t use visual presentations.”

Valerie Bautista, 13, performed well in informative speaking.

She’s been perfecting her craft. She’s given this presentation

before and took 8th place. This time she came in fifth.

“It’s funny and it got a lot of laughs and attention from the audience. I thought we did pretty good.”

Kole Kibler, 13, performed “The Day the Crayons Quit” for the Novice Prose event. He and Levi Ince did a duet called “Crayon Maps.”