by Jim Boyle
Dylan Clausen admits he probably put more pressure on himself than he should have to repeat as a state champion at the Minnesota State High School League Class AA state high school speech tournament this past weekend at Apple Valley High School.
But the Elk River High School senior and his teammates have been setting the bar high ever since the group won the school’s first section championship in 2014 and Clausen qualified for state that year as a freshman in Discussion.
The Elks have won the section title every year since, and Clausen’s goal to win a state title was cemented the following year when he took second in Discussion as a sophomore. He won it in 2016 and repeated again this past weekend. It was icing on a cake that has been getting sweeter all along.
“To me this means I was able to finish my senior year on a high note, and it’s also symbolic for Elk River being able to hold its own,” he said this week during his third hour speech class with teacher and speech team adviser Allison Harmer.
Elk River had five section champs this year. They are Clausen, Elizabeth Brayden, Tia Lerud, Erika Kovar and Emmanuel Collins.
Elk River advanced 12 team members to state and three became finalists. They are Clausen, Brayden (seventh in Oratory) and Jazzy Gray (eighth in Informative).
The team finished 10th overall at state, despite going up against many teams twice its size. Elk River has 36 members, from novice to varsity.
“To finish in the top 10 without the resources and support some other teams have says a lot about Elk River,” Clausen said. “We are still able to hold our own.”
Harmer said the success doesn’t happen by accident.
“I am always so impressed with how hard they work,” she said. “I think the school owes a lot to these students. They have set the bar high for future (speech) teams.”
Clausen got involved as a freshman after taking part in mock trial. He was looking for something that would allow him more freedom and greater opportunities for creativity.
Speech quickly became his main activity in high school, although he hasn’t let off the gas in his foray into science, technology, engineering and math, aka STEM, aspects of schooling. He is planning to double major in premed and political science at Dartmouth, an Ivy League school in New Hampshire.
“Speech is the best thing I have ever done,” he said, noting how much it has prepared him for his future in terms of skills and experiences and developing a tremendous appreciation for language.
Clausen has been hooked on Harmer’s approach — one that stresses everyone has a voice and by using it people empower themselves and others to use their own.
Students on the team have a diverse background, but all share a passion for sharing a message with others and are willing to work hard, Harmer says. Topics tackled range from micro-aggression against women to the science behind disgust.
Some start out terrified of public speaking but are good writers. Some are even class clowns. But they’re all serious about competition.
This year the group competed in the National Speech and Debate Association’s national qualifier for the first time in school history. The contest is not sanctioned by the Minnesota State High School League.
Elk River had nine entrants and three students qualified. They are Clausen (first in Student Congress), Emily Sizen (second in Informative) and Brayden (third in Original Oratory). Grace Olson, Tia Lerud and Erika Kovar also finished as either a first alternate or semi-finalist.
This year would be no easy task for Clausen, as six of the top competitors in Discussion returned. Only two of them became finalists, including Clausen.
“Just making it to the finals was quite an accomplishment,” Harmer said.
But that’s not enough for Clausen and his teammates. With one state champ and a Top 10 finish at state, the team has high hopes for the National Speech and Debate Association National Tournament. That will be held June 18-24 in Birmingham, Alabama.