COLUMBIANA - There is no debating that 15 Columbiana High School students have what it takes to represent the district in a state tournament this weekend.
The students have spent hours upon hours perfecting their craft and are ready to take it to the next level, facing off with other Ohio students in speech and debate tournaments at Wooster High School.
Superintendent Don Mook said the team had five participants when it was resurrected in 2007. At that time one student qualified for state.
The team is now up to 29 participants, with 15 state qualifiers, and over the last seven years two students have held the title of state champion.
"Fingers crossed we have a few more state finalists and maybe even another champion," he said of the upcoming tournament.
Since 2007 the school has had 13 national qualifiers with seven students making the top 60, two making the top 30, and one student making the top 14, Mook said.
The team deserves recognition, because just as much time and effort is put into the tournaments as those participating in athletics, he added.
Speech is year-round, and participants faced off against each other in the first tournament at the high school in November of last year.
Mook said tournaments are held nearly every Saturday at local area high schools and coaches spend three to six hours with the students two to five days a week between September and March, which is when the annual state tournament is held.
The national tournament takes place over one week in June.
Columbiana students have been coached by Pam Pesa, Trisha Nord, Deanna Pesa, and team member Angela Rosen.
Mook said the coaching team has an interesting dynamic, since Pam and Deanna Pesa and Nord are all related and have prior coaching experience.
Pam Pesa is the mother of Trisha Nord, and Pam Pesa has been coaching speech for more than 25 years. She was an assistant coach at Cardinal Mooney and head coach at Poland.
"We are so lucky to have her," Mook said, adding that her coaching has led to eight state champions, seven runners up and one student earning fourth place in the national tournament.
Trisha Nord is head coach of the team and also teaches ninth grade English at the high school. She has been coaching 13 years, six of those at Poland. She has led seven duo teams to the state final round and has qualified seven duo teams to the national tournament, Mook said.
Two of the duo teams she has coached have made it to the top 30 at the national level, he added.
Deanna Pesa, Trisha Nord's sister, is currently attending Youngstown State University where she is studying special education. She has coached four years, leading one student to the state finals.
Rosen is a member of the speech team and has coached three years, leading three to national qualifiers and one state finalist.
Board of Education President Mark Hutson said he is glad the team is growing and is proud of the students' achievements.
"I am so glad to see Ms. Nord take this over. A lot of kids today are losing the ability to talk one on one with people. I think it's great to see it is doing so well," he said.
Students participating in the state tournament that begins Friday are:
*Duo teams, Katie Schallick and Brad Keylor, Halee Martin and Briana Davis, and Zach Frenger and Sarah Hunter.
*Individuals, Brandon Cannon, Bruce Wiggins, Clayton Cooper, Logan Bertolette, Cheyenne Carr, Cassie Mead, Harman Thind, Ally Moreschi and Conner Witherow.