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RFHS Forensics students 'find their own voice'

The River Falls High School Forensics team at the UW- Eau Claire tournament. (From left, front row): Grace Redmond, Madisyn Priestley, Lindsey Cardell and Isaac Gabriel; (second row) Laura Hildreth and Sara Hildreth; (third row) Natalie Bents, Pari Schils, Dailyn Wold, Carter Kusilek, Ronnie Kuehn, Evelyn Okal and Peyton Zignego; (back row) Jari Zoller, Alex Samargia, Aria Woolsey, Lindsey Young, Nathan Johnson and Wade Benedict. Submitted photos1 / 5
Alex Samargia, front and center, practices for River Falls Forensics alongside teammates Marina Glynn, Kieran Schneider and Madeline Danforth. 2 / 5
River Falls High School Forensics state finalists Lindsey Cardell, Sara Hildreth, Grace Redmond and Madisyn Priestley are pictured at UW - Whitewater. 3 / 5
Aaron Wilber practices as parts of the River Falls High School Forensics team. 4 / 5
River Falls High School Forensics state semifinalists and finalists at UW - Whitewater. Pictured are (front row, from left) Madisyn Priestley and Natalie Bents; (back row) Ronnie Kuehn, Wade Benedict, Carter Kusilek, Lindsey Cardell, Sara Hildreth and Grace Redmond.5 / 5

It has been an "amazing" season for the River Falls High School Forensics team, said coach Kim Miller.

"We doubled in size, so we had close to 50 students who where competing," Miller said.

When she started about five years ago, the team had 10 students.

This year's team competed in about five different tournaments and received first place in team at each tournament; many students received excellent scores in preliminary rounds.

But, Miller said, the students gained something much more important than any awards.

"It's about gaining that confidence and strength and voice," she said. "When they find that strength, they find their own voice, they have this immense capacity to do whatever they want."

She said this will help them finding their place in the world and having the confidence to go for their dreams.

"I am immensely proud," Miller said. "I never even imagined we would get this far and do as well as we did this season."

The team placed fourth at the state tournament, achieving their goal to be in the top six in the state.

Miller said Forensics is split into two different sides: speech and interpretation.

Speeches include topics such as informative speaking, moments in history, oratory and more.

Interpretation includes things such as group interpretation, prose, poetry and more.

She said many students chose "hard-hitting" themes such as suicide, self-harm, persistence, and depression.

Miller said she was shocked but proud that her students were brave enough to address these difficult topics.

Student Madisyn Priestley joined Forensics as a freshman because her aunt was in it and loved it and she loved to talk.

This year, Priestly entered in moments in history with a speech about Aaron Burr's life and his duel with Alexander Hamilton, and a group interpretation of a chapter from a book.

Her group interpretation received a third place at state.

She said she's also learned a lot from Forensics.

"I've learned perseverance, how to be a leader, hard work, how the be humble, and most importantly, how to be a part of a team," Priestly said. "As much as Forensics is an individual activity, it is also largely a team activity. If you're not comfortable with your team, if you don't feel supported by your team, you aren't going to do well. Being able to give confidence to your teammates, and help them grow is really important."

Priestly said the RFHS steam has grown "tremendously" this year.

"We all helped each other, and made sure we knew we had each others backs," she said. "It really felt like a family this year, and that's the best part about Forensics.

"We're a group of misfits that come from all different backgrounds, and we each have our own little quirks, and we can come together and be undefeated as a team in regular season, and fourth place at state.

Priestly said it took her team "serious commitment" to achieve what they did.

"A lot of us spend three to four hours after school practicing, and sometimes five days a week," she said. "We get up at 5:30, get ready, and drive an hour to speak for three, sometimes four times a day. It's exhausting, but this team blows it out of the water, and we love what we do."

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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