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DayBranch state champ ... again
SMOOTH TALKER — Emma DayBranch, who successfully defended her state championship, rehearses a performance with Paul Chaffin, who helped to resurrect the debate and speech team last year.
OXFORD HILLS — Although the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School (OHCHS) lost funding for a speech and debate team, several spirited students have distinguished themselves as strong competitors in statewide competitions.
A case in point is Emma DayBranch, who, on January 29, repeated as state champion in the dramatic speech competition of the Maine Forensics League.
DayBranch will go on to represent as Maine's number one seed in a national competition this spring in Washington, DC.
"Last year, Emma was very competitive and became the state champion," said Jeff Norton, the OHCHS English school teacher who has been coaching DayBranch. "This year, she was just dominant. I think she attended six tournaments this year, and came in first at all of them."
Competing in the dramatic performance competition essentially consists of delivering a five to 10 minute scripted speech, which is like a short play.
In most tournaments, 18 competitors perform for three different sets of judges. The top six move on to compete in the finals.
Norton says that Daybranch has performed the same piece all year, which is not unusual.
"Normally, that's what you would do," said Norton. "Sometimes you'll switch a piece up if its not working or isn't being scored consistently."
DayBranch has wowed judges all year with a serious piece called "Hitting the Bar." She portrays " an ultra-competitive gymnast, who is a mean girl to say the least," said Norton. "At the national qualifier, she hits the balance beam and is paralyzed, so she ultimately pays the price for her mean girlness and is basically abandoned in a hospital, crippled."
"It's a heavy piece," he added.
Norton says that DayBranch's drive and talent have allowed her to succeed.
"She works hard," he said. "She takes criticism well."
Norton says that the 15-member group from OHCHS has distinguished themselves in other ways.
At a recent statewide competition, students Matt Farnum and Jake Kelly have done well, powering their team to a second-place finish in the congressional debate competition. Tabatha Hawkins took first in the novice poetry event. Abby Shanor took fifth in the JV Lincoln-Douglas competition, and Sydney Dunbar received an honorable mention for her performance of an original work.
Overall, the team placed fifth in the speech events, with 24 school attending the competition.
"We were the only school in the top five of two of those categories," said Norton.
Of the team's 15 members, eight made it to the state championships, and six were recognized as final round performers.
The achievements are particularly impressive considering that the team has been resurrected from the dead, with no money to speak of.
"We're an unfunded program," said Norton. "There used to be funds. We function largely out of my back pocket."
The students' achievements did not go unnoticed by the school's top administrators.
At a recent school board meeting, Principal Ted Moccia praised DayBranch, the other students, and supporting teachers as he related their success to the board.
"We don't have an official speech and debate team at the high school, but Jeff Norton and [social studies teacher] Craig Blanchard have been working with some students," said Moccia. "Our congressional debate team finished second in the state of all the schools that competed."
He also noted that "Oxford Hills was the only school to put people on multiple podiums for the entire tournament."