Wheeling Park High School’s speech team may have won 42 consecutive state championships since 1979, but until recently there was a blank spot on the wall where recognition for the 2020 team would have been.
This team never made it to the state championships in March 2020. They were set to travel to Morgantown and West Virginia University to compete, only to have the state tournament canceled days before. due to the onset of the COVID pandemic.
Now a plaque has been placed in honor of the seniors of this team and their captains, Lydia Bischof, Marian Moss and Laura Tighe.
Coach Bill Cornforth recalls the day in March 2020 before they left for the state finals that he stood in front of them, giving them a pep talk to prepare them for the competition ahead.
In the middle of his speech, his phone rang. He received a message that Governor Jim Justice had just canceled all public and school events in the state, including the speech tournament.
picture by: Photo by Joselyn King
“I was talking to them to get them excited, and it was cut off like that,” Cornforth said. “I had to change and tell them the tournament was cancelled.
“We didn’t know then if we could do it later. It turned out that we couldn’t. The things they had worked for for months were taken away from them in the snap of a finger. It was just like that.
The effort to later recognize the group began when Moss’ grandmother, Joann Davis, was examining the wall adjacent to the Beneke Theater at the WPHS. This is where each of the team’s championships is scored.
She realized that the members of the 2020 team were not recognized through no fault of their own.
“They missed everything – their tournament… their banquet,” Davis said. “They missed everything that year.”
picture by: Photo by Joselyn King
She said she had spoken to Cornforth to see if anything could be done to include the 2020 team among the winners. Davis said Cornforth told him he would discuss it with his other coaches, and from there the matter would have to go to WPHS administrators and ultimately to the Ohio County Schools Central Office.
In the end, it was determined that a plaque with the names of the seniors was appropriate, and it was placed in the display case next to the wall next to the team’s many trophies.
“At the 2020 Senior Speech and Debate, you will always be number one in our hearts,” the plaque read. It lists the names of all the seniors on the team – Teresa Albert-Siebieda, Logan Annett, Bischof, Jillian Blair, Tori Blanton, Lydia Kellas, Adam Marquart, Moss, Luke Oschenbein, Daisy Reasbeck, Tighe, Veda Wheeler, Paige Williams and Natalya Wood
“It made me cry,” Davis said. “I think the students deserved to be recognized. They worked harder than you think. They work all summer. I watched them. I say.”
She said she was one of many grandparents and parents who felt the team’s collective loss.
“We were so sad they missed them so much,” Davis said.
Cornforth called the 2020 seniors of the speech team a “very talented experienced group”.
“There were a lot of home runs on the team,” he said. “Some had participated in the national tournament the previous year and had done well.
“They were very motivated in their research and in the number of practices they would do. It was a very talented group. »
He suspects that they would all have won prizes at the state tournament and a number of them would have qualified for the national tournament.
“But they had the opportunity for great maturity,” Cornforth continued. “They got hit. But in life, you get hit. And the blows you get are often harder than they had to endure.
“It was a good workout in humility and inner strength that will prepare them for the toughest knocks in life,” Cornforth said.