The Choteau High School speech and drama team will advance 11 students to the state tournament in Bigfork on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 after placing at the divisional meet Jan. 18 in Shelby.

The team also came home with hardware as the divisional champions in drama and third-place winners in speech. Choteau’s head coach Cody Marney was also honored, as he was named drama coach of the year.

Eleanor Lee and Soren Cummings led the team and were crowned divisional champions in dramatic theater. Tommy Lesofski and Amber Johnson were close behind with second-place finishes in informative speaking and extemporaneous speaking.

Finishing in fourth place were: Jackson Quillan, dramatic oral interpretation; Rebekah Major, humorous solo; Nick Lohf and Terrance O’Neill, dramatic theater; and Anna Heimbuck and Jhulliet Maltby, classic theater.

Rounding up those going to state is Katie Major who finished sixth place in humorous solo.

Abby Hadlock and Hailey Alzheimer worked hard, said coach Marney. “They made it to finals but didn’t quite crack the top six places needed to advance to state,” he said. Both finished in seventh place, Hadlock in spontaneous oral interpretation and Alzheimer in impromptu speaking.

“The day was challenging, and Choteau did their job,” Marney said. “The main goal of the day was to qualify for state, but a big focus for us was to celebrate the personal wins of the entire season. This activity provides the skills needed to be successful for the rest of our lives and the majority of people do not take advantage. This group of 13 consistently used those skills to better themselves from week to week.”

Marney said he and assistant coach Lisette Hofer have heard multiple times this season from various kids that they weren’t nervous to get up in front of the class and give a presentation. “As coaches, those are the things we love to hear,” Marney said.

“Even though two members, Hadlock and Alzheimer, did not qualify for the state tournament, they worked so hard,” Marney said. “Hadlock made a category switch early in the season and fought hard to master that skill.” Hadlock will represent Choteau at the National Speech and Debate National Qualifiers in Helena in February.

“Alzheimer joined the team for the first time this year as a senior and was a nervous wreck,” Marney said. “She joined an incredibly competitive category and did very well preparing a new piece of writing every round.”

Both coaches said they are looking forward to the state competition in Bigfork. “This is Bigfork’s last year with Class B so it will be a great send-off from this program,” Marney said.

Marney said if he counted correctly, there are 62 Class B/C schools that will be converging to compete for the top honors. Marney said the team will be keeping the week fairly relaxed. “At this point, the work has been done. They will be making sure their pieces are staying at the forefront of their minds,” he said.

The team departs Jan. 30 after school and will compete all of Friday and Saturday. When possible, updates will be made to the Choteau High School Facebook page. For the first time, the awards ceremony on Saturday evening will be broadcasted on the NFHS website, a paid video field through the Montana High School Association.