Daily Sitka Sentinel
“When we went, I knew we were going to do well,” said Stefanie Ask, who coaches the team with Stacey Woolsey and Randy Hughey. “But I didn’t realize the degree of how well we were going to do. ... We just did an amazing job this year. We have an amazing group of students in terms of being brilliant thinkers and debaters, and great actors.”
Woolsey, who has coached the team for close to three decades, has several state wins to her credit, but said, “I think this was the most decisive one.”
The team took the trophies for drama, debate and forensics overall categories, the overall sweepstakes award and seven wins in individual categories. Sitka High senior Zephyr Feryok not only won three contests, but also took the prestigious Student of the Year Award, which comes with a $500 scholarship.
Hughey said he felt the team’s hard work paid off. In his debate coaching, he saw the work ethic from the start of the year as well as an overall team effort.
“There’s a tradition of winning, and we knew the cost,” Hughey said. “The kids worked really, really hard behind the scenes to research the topic and really, really know the material. The seniors knew the price and were willing to pay it.”
In the drama and forensics categories, Ask said, “We made sure we had quality pieces from the beginning.” The work started after that, as the kids honed and polished their pieces for every meet, taking and giving advice to each other, and taking advice from coaches. “It was nice to go to state and realize the quality of the pieces, how much polish it takes to be competitive,” Ask said.
At the tournament, the large schools and small schools compete against each other for individual titles. For the team competition, the small and large schools’ point totals are totalled separately.
Sitka High had the most points among small schools, with 116 points; followed by Whitestone with 46 and 12 points for Haines. In the large schools, South Anchorage won with 96, followed by West Anchorage with 57 and Service with 44.
Ask said she couldn’t stop shouting and screaming as the wins were announced. “It was one of the bright moments in my entire teaching career,” she said.
In the individual categories, sophomore Emma Bruhl took first for her solo piece, “The Food Chain,” and was ranked first in the final round by all of the judges. Woolsey said she and the other coaches were glad the judges could recognize Bruhl’s creativity and talent that she showed in the performance.
Sophomore Chaya Pike and freshman Celia Lubin were fourth in duet with “The Role of Della.” Woolsey said Pike had a great meet overall, and Lubin “is going to be amazing in the years to come.”
Emily Pratt, a senior, placed first for her humorous interpretation of literature piece, taken from “Twilight,” and Pike was third in the event with her piece from “Santaland Diaries,” by David Sedaris. Woolsey noted that Pike has been placing first with the piece since the beginning of the season, with her depiction of a Christmas elf at Macy’s.
In dramatic interpretation of literature, Emma Wilbur placed second for her performance from “Girl, Interrupted.”
“She took ones in every round in prelims, went to finals and had a tough room,” Coach Woolsey said. “I’m proud of Emma. She’s a gifted performer, and she brought it to the performance.” Woolsey said Wilbur worked closely with coaches to perfect her piece, and incorporated their advice as much as possible. One of the judges appreciated her natural acting style, and felt she brought a level of authenticity to the performance, Woolsey said.
The Sitka team also came on strong in duo, with a first-place finish for sophomores Ben Gordon and Ryan Apathy for their “Calvin and Hobbes” collection, followed in second place by Sam Woolsey and Alaire Hughey, two seniors, with their “Mr. Marmalade” piece.
Ask said Apathy approached her at the beginning of the year with the idea of making a cohesive duo out of a series of comic strips, and continued honing it throughout the year. “He would reappear in my classroom every morning with a new script and new ideas,” Ask said.
The pair worked particularly hard polishing it up for state in the final weeks.
“From the beginning it was obvious how much work he and Ben Gordon had put into it,” Ask said. “It was amazing to watch.”
Coach Woolsey gave credit to Alaire Hughey for pushing the pair to practice and improve throughout the season. “She’s so intense about doing the best she can,” coach Woolsey said.
In mime, Gordon and George Jones won the event with an original piece written and choreographed by teammate Sam Woolsey, “Reflections on the Lives of Mirrors.” Apathy and Bruhl were fourth in that event with another Sam Woolsey creation, “Addiction.”
Coach Woolsey said she was impressed with the mime performances. She said the Sitka kids have a bit of a leg up, since they’ve worked with top mime instructors at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp.
“The four kids worked really hard on isolations,” she said, describing the technique of perfecting the movements in a mime. “Most people don’t realize how much work goes into achieving the kind of precision the kids achieved. All four put their heart and soul into the performance and took (the pieces) to the highest level they could.”
Sam Woolsey said he was pleased to see one mime win, and the other place fourth, since both pieces were particularly challenging. In one scene by Gordon and Jones, they had to match their moves while their backs were turned. Sam Woolsey said he was thrilled with the result.
“Those mimes were excellent,” Sam said. “I was really happy they managed to pull it off, especially the weirder stuff Ryan and Emma were doing. I was happy it worked.”
Feryok took second in oration for his speech about the fall of American invention and ingenuity; first in domestic extemp and first in an exhibition one-on-one event, congressional debate.
Debate was a dominant area for the team, with Sam Woolsey and Evan Harrington tying for first with teammates Feryok and Pike. Gordon and Apathy were third in the event. The topic was: “Resolved: Birthright citizenship should be abolished in the United States.”
“It was very exciting,” coach Stacey Woolsey said. The Sitka team saw debate powerhouse Whitestone as its main competition, faced in the semis by Sam Woolsey and Harrington.
Coach Woolsey said the Sitka boys were ready.
“They had a really strong performance,” Stacey Woolsey said. “They showed a great depth of knowledge of the topic.” She said their work on the mock trial team helped prepare them to be tough in cross-exam. But she said that the two were “deflated” after the debate with Whitestone, and weren’t confident they had won. But their win was decisive: not only did they take first in the debate from all judges, they took first and second in speaker points in the round.
Gordon and Apathy forfeited in the semifinal round, in order to allow Feryok and Pike to compete in finals against Whitestone, if Whitestone were to knock out Harrington and Sam Woolsey. Harrington and Woolsey defeated Whitestone before that scenario was realized.
Instead of competing for first, the two teams of Harrington and Woolsey, and Pike and Feryok, were named co-champions, which is the right of any school which gets two teams into the final round. Gordon won first in speaker points overall in the tournament, and George Jones was ninth.
Feryok said he felt good about the Sitka team’s strategy throughout the year and performance at state.
“We must have done something right,” he said this morning. He said during the year, the Sitka debate teams prepare together, and share notes, although everyone chooses their own arguments to focus on in a debate. He said he and Pike felt they were well-versed on the subject. Feryok said he enjoyed the win, after working toward it for four years; as well as being a part of Sitka’s overall sweepstakes victory.
“It was definitely nice to see us doing so well in all our events,” he said. Feryok said it was particularly gratifying after last year’s loss to Whitestone by two Sitka High teams in the semis and finals.
“We both lost to a team we thought we could beat,” Feryok said.
Sam Woolsey said he and teammate Harrington were wary about the semifinal round against Whitestone, particularly at the beginning when they lost the coin toss and were forced to take the “affirmative” side, which they didn’t see as their strong suit.
“It was not a good start,” Sam Woolsey said. But it turned out they were well enough prepared to argue the affirmative side effectively and took the win.
He said it was a sweet victory. “There was no cool to be played,” he said. He said he jumped into his partner’s arms when the win was announced. Sam said Harrington responded with mock surprise: “I thought you were just happy to see me.”
Coach Ask said Feryok was deserving of the Student of the Year honor, given for a student who performs at the top throughout the year, and who builds connections with other schools and among the DDF community.
Randy Hughey said he was proud not only of the team’s performance, but the sportsmanship shown by Sitka High in cheering for other teams, even their tightest competitors, and complimenting others on their performance. He also gave kudos to Whitestone for the team’s support of the Sitka kids, and “raising the bar” on overall competition in the state.
“I’m always really, really proud of the kids,” Ask agreed. “We’re always cheering on the other teams. ... You walk into the state competition and all our kids are running up to them and hugging other competitors. You really see a sense of companionship and camaraderie amongst the kids.”