Three Southeast High School students are headed to the National Speech and Debate Association national speech and debate tournament, scheduled June 15-20 at Overland Park.
Coached by Gary Leiker, they are Jessica Markley and Natalie Timmons, both 2014 Southeast graduates, and Ashleigh Fleck, a sophomore.
To go to the national competition, students must place first or second in their category at a national qualifier.
This will be Markley’s third time around, and not many students manage to attain that.
“I’ve had other students who qualified for nationals multiple times, but Jessica is my first student to qualify three times,” Leiker said. “It’s also no small feat for a student like Ashleigh to qualify as a sophomore.”
Markley said that her first year she went to Indianapolis, and the second year was to Birmingham.
“Both of  those times I competed in extemporaneous speaking, but now it’s a whole new thing,” she said. “I’ll be doing original oratory, and my  topic will be body image. The title of my oration will be ‘Body Outlaws’.”
Timmons said that her category will be humorous interpretation.
“It’s just funny acting,” she said. “I found a piece and memorized it.”
Her selection, about a school talent show, features six characters, which adds a definite dimension of difficulty.
“I had to figure out voices and postures for all the different characters,” Timmons said. “There’s a principal, a janitor, a secretary, a lunch lady, a bus driver and a man in the crowd who calls out to Miss Hootch, the secretary. He calls her ‘Hootchie Mama’.”
Fleck said she will be doing congressional debate.
“There will be about 20 people in the room, and you give speeches and get cross-examined,” she said.
Leiker said that the national docket for this debate was released just last week, listing about 25 areas of legislation that students will need to research and prepare for their debate.
“A lot of these things are still going on in Congress right now,” Fleck said, such as the possibility of raising the minimum wage.”
Competition is fierce. Leiker said there will be about 2,000 students from across the nation competing at the tournament.
“There are usually around 200 in each event,” he said.
“But it’s not just the events, it’s the people you meet while you do it,” Timmons said.
Markley and Fleck both agree with that.
“My first year there were about 360 in U.S. extemporaneous in a giant gymnasium,” Markley said. “I went back the next year to that same event and met the same people.”
“You make a lot of friends, and that’s wonderful,” Fleck added.
For that matter, students form bonds at their school from working together in the same activity.
“Your team becomes like one big dramatic family,” Markley said.
And, she noted, there are other effects as well.
“I don’t think I’d be going on the career path I am now if it wasn’t for forensics,” Markley said.
The daughter of Brian Markley and Regina Markley, she planning on attending Missouri Southern State University, then going on to law school and getting involved in corporate law.
Timmons will attend Kansas State University, majoring in veterinary medicine with a minor in zoology because she would like to become a veterinarian and work part-time in a zoo. She is the daughter of Amanda and Paul Timmons.
“I’ll also be in the K-State marching band with my alto sax,” Timmons said.
Fleck, daughter of Tammy Fleck, also wants to go into law, but would like to attend school in the United Kingdom because of her strong interest in British culture.
For now, she’s still got two more years to pursue forensics.
“We’ve got a lot of talented kids at Southeast,” said Leiker, who started teaching there in 1995. “There are a lot of talented kids at every school. I’m just glad some of them found their way into my classroom.”