Stark County will be well represented at the National Speech and Debate Tournament which will be June 18 to 23 in Birmingham, Ala.

Jackson High School is taking 14 students to the national tournament while Hoover is taking four. Other Stark County schools represented will be GlenOak, Perry, McKinley and Central Catholic. Those competiting will be looking to become the first Stark County student to win a national championship.

"This is an incredible activity that develops skills in students that they will use the rest of their lives," said Missy Stertzbach, the speech and debate coach at Hoover. "It is not just about the communication skills. It teaches the students to be good winners and good losers and to be a team. They will be good leaders ... so many skills that teach life-long lessons."

Jackson won its third state title this year in speech and debate. The Polar Bears last championship was in 2010. Ironically, the boys basketball team has also followed in the speech and debate’s teams footprints both years.

"Our season began in September," said Todd Michael Jr., Jackson’s speech and debate coach. "Our first tournament this year was last October. Our last debate was right before spring break."

Since then, Michael Jr. has given the team the month of April off with practices resuming in May two to three days a week. The debate topics were just recently released.

"The debaters are now preparing the pros and cons of each topic," said Michael, Jr., who is a 1999 graduate of Jackson High School and was a member of the speech and debate team. "We will do our research. The day of the event, they flip a coin to determine which side you get. You don’t know until you go in the room."

Michael Jr.  said he is taking an experienced squad to Alabama.

"The athletes know the process," he said. "They know what it will be like."

Team preparation is the key. In this activity, the coach is not in the room with the athletes. Michael Jr. said he keeps tabs on his students but he mostly sits and worries.

Hoover, like Jackson, started its season in September. Hoover also took the month of April off and has resumed practicing again for the national tournament

"This is a huge activity," said Stertzbach, who is a graduate of Hoover and also a former speech and debate. "This is a long, competitive season. "

Hoover started the season with 65 members on the team and Stertzbach said no one is turned away. She said the team will go to the middle school and speak with kids to try to get them to join. They also get teacher and counselor recommendations for team members.

Since coaches are not allowed in the room during tournaments, Stertzbach explained how coaches help and work with the students during the year.

"We get feedback on a written ballot; critique on how the student did," said Stertzbach. "I review the results over the weekend. Then I review with the student and we make corrections. I like to get the student’s perception of what happened."

Stertzbach added, "Speech and debate students are close. The bond is really tight with their team and fellow speech and debaters from all over the county. Their best friends are at these week long competitions and vacations."

Members of Jackson’s team attending the competition are Cael Jones, Ishano Tripathy, Abigail Henry, Marisa Dinko, Issac Allison, Eli Abboud, Tumas Rackalitis, Arjun Shanmugam, Stefanie Pousoulides, Mitch Dillon, Evan Gardell, Faheem Ali, Alan Ai and Ted Marszalkowski. Coaches and adults attending are Ralph Boswell, Michele Evans, Brandon Mader and Michael, Jr.

Members of Hoover's team attending are Angela Myers, Alex Wright, Sam Jocas and Kevin Poe. Other coaches attending with Stertzbach are Jim Kellams and Griffin Allman.