The trophy case in the lobby of Loyola Sacred Heart High School that was built to hold state speech and debate championship plaques has 30 slots – but that’s not enough.
After the State B speech and debate competition, which took place in Ennis on Friday and Saturday, the Loyola team came home with its 33rd consecutive win.
Matthew Stergios, an assistant coach for the team, said Loyola has spent months working with the Montana High School Association and its national counterpart to determine whether the school’s streak really is the longest in the nation for any high school activity or sport.
“At this point, we can safely say it’s the longest confirmed national streak in any activity,” Stergios said.
He said several other schools in the county have notched consecutive wins in the mid-20s, and a New England-area school recently won its 30th straight swimming title, but none have dominated as long as Loyola has.
Head coach Nancy Wilson said 24 Loyola students qualified to go to state this year, and an alternate who went with them ended up competing in place of a student at another school.
Loyola ended the tournament with 174 points overall, with Ronan finishing with 68 points and Bigfork at 52. During the competition, Stergios kept track of the school’s point total in the margin of a piece of paper.
“Sometimes, we’ve had the state championship wrapped up by Friday night,” he said.
In addition to his role as assistant coach, Stergios was the head coach for 21 of Loyola’s wins, including when the streak started in 1984.
Students on the team said there is always pressure to make sure the streak continues for another year. The weight of the legacy tends to increase the older they get.
“As a freshman, there was a thought that we can rely on the seniors, but now that you’re a senior you are that person,” said Karlin Moore, who placed eighth in impromptu speaking during the weekend.
Faith Kulka, a sophomore who won the Lincoln Douglas Debate category, said she doesn’t know how Stergios will react when the winning streak is finally broken.
“He would probably retract our diplomas. Oh, I’m definitely not going to be the senior class that has that happen,” she said.
Seniors Arthur Pettit and Tanner Condit placed fourth in policy debate, with Maggie Miltko and Casey Cummins finishing just ahead of them in third.
Pettit said being a team from Loyola “put a target on our back” at the competition.
“We wrote a new plan two days before the state competition specifically to make sure we had something new nobody had seen before,” Miltko said.
Senior Rosie McCormack won the extemporaneous speaking category. In that event, students have 30 minutes to prepare a speech on a domestic or foreign political topic selected from a set of current events. Although they don’t know the topics in advance, students are allowed to bring research materials with them to prepare.
“The last speech I had to do was, ‘Who can challenge China’s rising power in East Asia?’ ” McCormack said.
Bailey Strader and Caleb Anderson, who won first place in expository speaking and humorous oral interpretation, said going to state as repeat champions didn’t change the challenge they faced in their own events.
“I think we have to work as hard as everyone else,” Strader said. “I think that we prepare the best.”