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At virtual national event: Speech duo make mark

Fairmont Area juniors Isabell Geiger and Tabitha Thatcher recently ended their relatively unique experience of competing in the first-ever virtual National Speech and Debate Tournament.

The girls ended in the top 30 quarterfinalists, tying for 24th place out of 200 duo teams. The pair competed in nine rounds, receiving feedback from 22 judges.

The girls discussed their experience, including challenges, joys and what they learned along the way.

When asked what it was like to prepare for a virtual Nationals Tournament, the girls said that while it was a bit strange they enjoyed it.

“It was definitely different,” Geiger said. “It was not anything we were used to and it was a little bit difficult because we personally don’t have the best WiFi. But we tried to focus more on the characters and emotional involvement in the piece because we couldn’t do a whole lot with physical movement, but I think that helped us get to where we were.”

“It was a long process,” Thatcher said. “It was different to be able to see Isabell because in a normal duo you can’t look at each other at all. So it was kind of difficult to do online, it was different from anything we’d ever done.”

As for the tournament itself, Thatcher noted the virtual aspect helped their ability to relax.

“It was kind of cool, honestly,” she said. “We didn’t have to worry about being nervous to perform because we had already done it. So we got to enjoy watching other duos, and because it was a wide range from all over the country it was interesting to see how different people did different things.”

The girls came away with different but positive perspectives.

“It was cool to see how different people adapted to doing this online,” Thatcher said. “It was cool to see how they used their cameras, moving in closer or further away from it, using their space differently. If we had to do this again next year, we’d be a lot more prepared from seeing what other people have done.”

“I just appreciate the physical aspect of the tournament,” Geiger said. “The ability to be there, talking with people in your rounds, and just experiencing it in a room is so much different than having to do it on the computer. But I feel like even though we were online, we were able to learn just as much from other people.”

Geiger said she simply appreciated being a part of the team.

“I like a lot about speech,” she said. “I love the team aspect, I think it’s grown a lot this year with our Fairmont speech team. Before quarantine, we would have fun nights at captains’ houses and watch movies. So other than the actual speaking portion, I like being with my team, and with Tabitha since we’re really close.”

Thatcher expressed similar sentiments.

“We had really great seniors this year; they started a lot of really fun traditions,” she said. “I also just love performing, and those are probably the main reasons I’m involved in speech.”

As for the future, Geiger noted the pair plan to continue with business as usual, which is, in and of itself, unusual.

“We’ll be going on five years next year doing duo, which is not very common,” she said. “Most of the time when people do a duo for speech, they’ll only do it for their junior and senior year, but we’ve been doing it since eighth grade. Most of the time coaches don’t let you do that, but it’s been really fun.

The girls’ head coaches, Kathleen and her husband Erik Walker, along with assistant coach Michael Taylor, are proud of their achievement.

“I just have to say this was a really fun and huge learning experience,” Kathleen said. “I am just so proud of these two girls for doing what they did, and I’m so impressed. It was an honor to work with them.”

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