After an extended absence, Team Skagway competed at a Drama, Debate and Forensics competition in Haines over the weekend. The trio of young thespians wowed judges and made fast friends at the two-day event. Around 50 students from across Southeast competed in DDF events over two days.

It’s been five years since Skagway School has fostered a DDF team. But this season, they’re back, and competing with gusto.

Zachary Breen, Alexandra Weber and Dominic Rotier, competed in both dramatic and forensic events and have been putting in long hours preparing for their comeback season. Their pieces are new and fresh, they say. And the judges took note. The Skagway crew took second place for their theatre piece on the National Security Agency, which featured skits with snippets from various books and movies.

But more than a chance at the DDF winners’ circle, the program and competitions offer life lessons many times over. Here’s Rotier and Breen:

“Well, I for one hope to be a film director in the future, so I’m already in the process of learning to write better. My language and literacy has improved incredibly. This opportunity has definitely improved that as well,” says Rotier.

Adds Breen: “I write music and I love playing music, but I have stage fright, so this has been a major opportunity for me to refine those skills and become more comfortable in front of an audience.”

Jonathan Baldwin is the assistant coach for team Skagway. He says the amount of dedication that goes into preparing for a meet speaks volumes about the teens’ commitment to success. Leading up the tournament, the group, along with head coach Shelby Surdyk, has been practicing before and after school and on weekends. Baldwin says some of the voluntary weekend practice sessions went on for eight hours.

“We had some difficult material that took a little bit of time to put together and I think that shows with us getting to finals – the material we chose and the dedication that the students had in preparing their pieces,” said the coach.

Before taking the stage at a competitive event, the Skagway trio meditates together. Weber and Rotier also have little porcelain charms that they carry in their pockets for luck.

“His name is Ollie, and he’s an Orca.”

“And I have a little giraffe named Gorve and he keeps me confident and he tells me that everything is going to be alright.”

While there were only three Skagway competitors at this contest in Haines, coach Baldwin says the numbers are growing.

“The more students that join up, there’s a little pressure from their peers to come along and then they really end up having a good time and learning a lot.”

The DDF program took a hiatus simply because of low student numbers in the upper grades. But with enrollment on the rise, Baldwin says he hopes the young students will see what a good opportunity   DDF is, and want to sign up.

Down the hall at the Haines School on Saturday, a pair of young Juneau actors were performing in the duet acting final.

Juneau’s Jillian Lewis and Erin Hand performed a piece about a heartbroken woman who gets advice and comfort from her best friend. They’re best friends in real life, they say, and have been working on this particular performance for a couple of months.

“It’s a way to just get away for the weekend and forget your schoolwork, and act and have fun, and meet your friends whether they’re from Haines, or Ketchikan, or Skagway,” says Lewis.

“It’s nice because it also has an educational side of it. With the debate and the draw, you’re getting topics that are relevant to the world today, so you also get to spend time learning about current issues which you don’t get to spend a lot of time doing in school,” adds Hand.

Haines coach Amanda Randles says the Haines and Skagway students were hugely successful at this second meet of the season. Teens from both schools picked up command performances and some top-three awards.

The monthly regional events are stepping stones to the state championships in February in Anchorage.

Randles says aside from the competitors, the Haines community pulled together for the event, with 40 volunteer judges and 10 organizers.

Here are some results from the weekend competition:

Reader’s Theater:
1st: Thunder Mountain for “The Scarlett Letter in ten minutes”
2nd: Skagway High – “NSA”
Extemporaneous Speaking:
1st: Ketchikan High School, Audrey Kistler
5th: Haines High School, Syrena Jackson
Duo Interpretation:
1st: Thunder Mountain High, Laura Barnhill and Rebecca Hassler
3rd: Skagway High, Alexandra Weber and Dominic Rotier (who also got a command performance.)  Their piece was based on the Edward Abbey book, “The Monkey Wrench Gang”
4th: Haines High School, Xi Xiao White  and Tiaya Rugirello “Marriage Phobia”
Extemporaneous Commentary:
1st: Thunder Mountain High, Erin Hand
5th: Skagway High, Zach Breen
Dramatic Interpretation:
1st: TMHS, Tristan Truax
Humorous Interpretation:
1st: TMHS, Alex Wehe
3rd: HHS, Tiaya Rugirello (with a command performance!) “Camping: Natures Way of Promoting the Hotel Industry” by Dave Berry
Duet Acting:
1st: TMHS, Rebecca Hassler and Zeke Spencer
1st: TMHS, Michael Grant and Tristan Truax
Original Oratory:
1st: KHS, Cheyenne Matthews
2nd: SHS, Dominic Rotier
3rd: SHS, Alexandra Weber
Expository Speaking:
1st: KHS, Luke Dossett
Solo Acting:
1st: SHS, Zach Breen (with a command performance.)
2nd: HHS, Keegan Palmieri “Deck the Stage”
Public Forum Debate: 1st: THMS Gavin Martin and Taylor Russell
Speaker Points (for debate): 1st: Cheyenne Matthew, KHS, 173 points