The Absegami High School Forensics Team won second place at the New Jersey Drama and Forensics League State Championship held Feb. 22 at Raritan High School in Monmouth County.

The public-speaking and dramatic performance team earned a total of 268 points, won five individual state championships and fielded nine other state finalists, said Forensics Team coach and teacher Chip Garrison.

"I am so very proud of all of the members on the forensics team. They have worked so hard this year on their pieces and have been so supportive of each other and the rest of the league," Garrison said.

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Leading the team was junior Nick Hathaway, who won state championships in Prose Interpretation, Improvisational Pairs with junior Jess Schrading, and Musical Pairs with sophomore Abby Cohen.

Junior Isabelle Brown won the state championship in Persuasive Speaking, and sophomore Saverio Turrano won a state championship in Dramatic Monologue.

Other state finalists included senior Ashton Wagner, who finished in second place in Prose Interpretation, and Turrano and senior Brandon Castillo, who finished in third place in Comedy Pairs.

Brown and senior Gabrielle Hughes took third and fourth place in After Dinner Speaking, and Brown also took fourth place in Musical Pairs with senior Malia Monk.

In Improvisational Pairs, Turrano and sophomore Michael Moore won second place and Hughes and senior Josh Wescoat won fourth place. Hughes and Brown also finished in second and fourth place respectively in Impromptu Speaking.

According to the competition format, team members who didn't make it to the final round still contributed to the overall sweepstakes points, Garrison explained.

Also, those students who didn't qualify for the championships were eligible to compete in two wild-card events. At this year's championships, Absegami had students competing in Improvisational Monologue and TV/Film Monologue and wound up with four students winning awards in those events, he said.

Rounding out the awards presentations for Absegami was junior Ashley Fox, who won first place in the Wild Card category of TV/Film Monologue, with senior Stephanie Rodriguez taking third place and sophomore Emily Ip taking fourth place in the same category. Junior Juliet Melnik took fifth place in the Wild Card category of Improvisational Monologue.

Mainland Regional High School in Linwood won the state title for its third straight year with a total of 365 points.

It was a repeat first- and second-place win for the two Atlantic County high schools, which are the only area schools that compete in the statewide league. Mainland and Absegami have been friendly rivals for the past several years.

Garrison said that despite sometimes intense competition, the league does foster bonds of camaraderie and friendship among the teams. For example, he said, a Spanish teacher at Mainland Regional died shortly before the state tournament, and the Absegami team took the time to make a homemade sympathy poster. Team members all signed their names and presented it to the Mainland team at the tournament.

"I think that's what makes the league so special, the kids in our programs get to meet other theater students in other schools. So often, kids in the arts are treated as 'different' by other students in the building, so it's nice for them to see that there are other kids just like them," Garrison explained.

Absegami last brought home the state championship in 2005. Before that, the team had a long history of success in the New Jersey Drama Competition, having won the state tournament for six years running between 1995 and 2000. The Absegami Team helped start the NJDFL in 2000, and since then has always finished near the top of the league.

The Absegami Forensics Team is planning a team celebration and showcase featuring some of the team's award-winning performances on April 16. The event will take place at 6 p.m. in the high school cafeteria and tickets are set at $10. For information, contact Garrison at 609-404-2073, ext. 3502.

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